Underrated green

Photograph: Vibha Varshney

Growing up in Delhi had a few unexpected perks, such as greater exposure to cuisines brought in by communities from across the country who have settled here and created an ecosystem that reminds them of home. These communities give us a glimpse of the food they enjoy. For instance, people who migrated from Kashmir in the 1940s settled in Pamposh Enclave, named after the lotus flower that grows in Dal Lake. Now an upscale locality, it still has small shops with foods of this community, for example, dried vegetables such as bottle gourd and aubergines, discs of Kashmiri masalas, large chillies that lend a beautiful hue to any dish and even local walnuts and honey.

I had my first taste of Kashmiri cuisine in a restaurant in this area, where we ordered a saag with rice. The saag had large leaves floating in oily water, quite different from the dish of mustard leaves that was available just across the road, made by people who trace their roots to Pakistan. It also did not have tomatoes, onions or garlic.

The Kashmiri saag or haakh was made from the leaves and stems of kohlrabi (Brassica oleracea gongylodes), and it was extremely flavourful and soothing. With kohlrabi being a part of the cruciferae family, the leaves have a distinct mustard-like taste.

Haakh is usually a part of a platter with non-vegetarian dishes, paneer, beans and rich and oily vegetable preparations. Easy to prepare, it is now a winter favourite at my house too, consumed with rice (see recipes). We use the young bulbous stems and leaves of kohlrabi, because they tend to get more fibrous as they grow, and add baking soda for easier cooking and digestion.

The mustard-like leaves of kohlrabi or ganth gobhi are, in fact, only consumed in Kashmir. Other cuisines use the stem. In southern parts of India, where kohlrabi is known as noolkol, the stem is used to prepare poriyal, a stir-fry dish with coconut, and even sambar. At home, we also prepare the stem in a way similar to stir-fried round gourd (tinda) or potatoes. In other countries, such as those in Europe, the stem is consumed as a salad, in soups and in roasted form with sauce. It is also boiled and seasoned to be eaten as a side dish.

Beneficial choice

The name kohlrabi comes from the German words kohl (cabbage) and rabi (turnip). The vegetable shares its genus, Brassica, with mustard and species, oleracea, with cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussel sprouts and many other vegetables. Only its variety, gongylodes, is different. Its centre of cultivation was recently determined as the eastern Mediterranean region by researchers from the US, UK, China and Germany. They used RNA sequences from 224 samples of 14 Brassic oleracea varieties, including kohlrabi, and their nine potential ancestors to come to this conclusion, published in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution in October 2021.

Kohlrabi needs a cool climate to grow; in India, it is cultivated in Kashmir, West Bengal, Maharashtra, Assam, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab. But the area under cultivation is not known. Unlike cabbage and cauliflower, which are harvested in 80 days, kohlrabi crops need just 60 days. Some of its varieties, like White Vienna, grow in about 45 days.

The vegetable has been found to be rich in biochemicals that have health benefits. Just like other cruciferous vegetables, kohlrabi prevents oxidative stress, induces production of detoxification enzymes, strengthens the immune system, decreases the risk of cancers, inhibits malignant transformation and carcinogenic mutations and reduces proliferation of cancer cells, as per a 2012 study in Annals of the National Institute of Hygiene. It can provide vitamin A and C, folic acid and dietary fibre and is a rich source of vitamin B-complex such as niacin, pyridoxine, thiamin and pantothenic acid. It can also provide minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, iron, magnesium and potassium, highlights online database Plants For A Future.

Despite such benefits, kohlrabi remains an underutilised vegetable. Perhaps its use will be augmented if one finds the right kohlrabi recipe that suits their taste buds, just like haakh suited mine.



  • Kohlrabi with leaves: 2
  • Red chillies: 4 to 5
  • Asafoetida: 1/4 tsp
  • Baking soda: 1/4 tsp
  • Mustard oil: 2 tbsp
  • Salt to taste


Wash the stems and leaves well. Peel the stem, carefully removing hard parts. Roughly chop them into slices. Tear the leaves lengthwise along the midrib. Chop the midrib into pieces but discard the hard ones. Take oil and asafoetida in a pressure cooker. Mix in the chopped stem pieces. Add the leaves, baking soda, salt and broken red chillies and mix again. Stir in a cup of water and cook till the leaves are soft.



  • Kohlrabi: 2
  • Potato: 1
  • Cumin: 1/2 tsp
  • Turmeric, chilli and coriander powders: 1/2 tsp each
  • Asafoetida: 1/4 tsp
  • Ginger: 3 cm piece
  • Green chilli: 1 to 2
  • Amchoor powder: 1/2 tsp
  • Garam masala: 1/2 tsp
  • Oil: 2 tbsp
  • Salt to taste


Peel and dice the vegetables into cubes. In a pan, heat oil, add asafoetida and cumin seeds and let them crackle. Mix in the turmeric, chilli and coriander powders, salt and add the cut vegetables, grated ginger and green chilli. Add half a cup of water, cover and cook until soft. Take off the flame, add amchoor powder and garam masala and cover. Wait for a few minutes and enjoy with rotis and dal.

This was first published in the 16-29 February, 2024 print edition of Down To Earth

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