Kohlrabi Soup

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Life an as expat comes with its own share of frustrations, but when I step back and put it all in perspective, this shit seems trivial and unworthy of mention. So I don’t really talk about the annoyances much, but they’re there, and if they do nothing more than remind me of my own character flaws, well then, I guess they’ve done their job.

kohlrabi_1 kohlrabi_2

Yes, there are things I’m not so good at as an expat. Here’s one: I’m no good at keeping a bright attitude while commuting by metro transit during the peak of rush hour. Christ almighty. If I were a practicing Catholic, this would be prime time to belt out a few Hail Marys. And what blows me away isn’t the volume of people who can stuff together in each car. Or that even with their bodies wedged like canned sardines, most people still manage to finger their phones, arms bent up stiffly like chipmunks. No, what’s more astonishing is that I am always the lone person who is pissed off, the only one with steam shooting out of her ears, shaking her head and muttering obscenities under her breath. Most other people are quiet and composed, even while they’re being pushed and elbowed from all directions, because really, how is freaking out and resisting the inevitable going to make a damn bit of difference? I get it. I look like the asshole. It’s infuriating.


The other day I was commuting on one of the busiest lines, getting ready to transfer along with the rest of Seoul’s mobile population. I could have nibbled the knuckle hair of the man I was spooning without straining my neck, and because his arms were pinned to his sides, he wouldn’t have been able to retaliate. Not by much, anyway. When we got to my stop, I tried to wriggle free. No one else around was getting off, and unless someone was going to raise my ass and pass it above the heads, I was trapped. The doors closed, then opened, then closed again. The old woman to my left could tell I had a problem, and she started sputtering on my behalf, at least I imagined it was for me, and I appreciated that to the high heavens since everyone else was averting their eyes. We made eye contact, that lady and I, and we both smiled. When we reached the next station, I carried her across the threshold, out the exit and onto firm ground, in a flurry of sharp elbows. Not really. I left and she stayed. This soup is for you, sweet lady.


So what does soup have to do with it? Nothing, really, except that soup has a steadfast ability to ground a person, I think. So do gifts of food. Last Sunday my friend Sonja gave me a bag of provisions she wasn’t going to use, including one very handsome kohlrabi, a new favorite winter vegetable and the inspiration for a new recipe, which is yours, Sonja, too. One more thing I’ve got to tell you, don’t go yet. Do you know about adding leftover parmesan rinds to soup? Never throw out a parmesan rind. Here’s why: when you add it to a broth, it melts and infuses the liquid with a rich saltiness, better than salt itself. At one point while making this soup, I thought I smelled pizza, which was confusing until I remembered about the rind that was by then melting into irresistible bits that I kept fishing out to chew, like treasure.


Kohlrabi Soup

1/2 kohlrabi (about 1 1/2 cups, chopped into cubes)
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
1/2 onion, chopped
few stalks of celery, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
stock + water (I used turkey stock, but you could use chicken or vegetable instead)
parmesan rind
salt to taste
olive oil

Into a pot heated with oil, add the onions, garlic, celery, and carrot. Cook until onions have softened, then put into a separate bowl and set aside. Into the same pot, add a bit more oil and the chopped kohlrabi. Sauté for a while, maybe 7-10 minutes. Then add back the other vegetables, mix, and add in the stock plus water to cover. (Since kohlrabi takes longer to cook than the other veggies, it’ll need more time. It probably makes more sense to give the kohlrabi a headstart and cook it first, then just add the other veggies to the same pot. By all means, do that if it sounds right to you. I wrote by the steps that I took). Add the parmesan rind. Cover the pot and turn the heat to low. Simmer until all the vegetables are fork tender, without any resistance to the tooth, adding more liquid when necessary. Take the soup off the heat, and let it cool. Then, purée in batches or with an immersion blender. Put back on the stove, reheat, and season with more salt if needed. Garnish with whatever you have. Here: dried shallots, sansho pepper, and ribbons of celery leaves.


  • Habiba

    Gorgeous. Your writing and photos are inspiring. Also, I totally cried after a particularly horrible subway ride last week.

    • Jacqui

      And you, as much, inspire me. SO much fun in the kitchen with you yesterday! Sorry you had a bad time commuting last week. Someone should start a support network for users of rush hour Seoul public transit~