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Hay-bake kohlrabi for a taste of ancient and modern Ireland

Cooking with hay is an age old art, dating back to at least Neolithic times

If you can’t get kohlrabi - though they are turning up in increasing numbers in vegetable delivery boxes - substitute a cauliflower, beetroot or celeriac and cook in the same manner

With early autumn arrives the mildly soporific aroma of freshly cut hay. Left to dry and cure for a few days, it is then baled and stored for the winter months, providing fodder for hungry farm animals.

Cooking with hay is an age old art, dating back to at least Neolithic times when meat was wrapped in hay and then cooked in simmering water. The hay not only flavoured the meat but also helped preserve it before cooking. The Normans cooked their hams in hay, and in the absence of wood, salmon or trout could be smoked over smouldering hay. 

Recently, at Lignum restaurant in Loughrea, Co Galway, I encountered mackerel suspended over the grill, their tiny bellies stuffed with small bundles of neatly cut hay. The lightly cooked mackerel was served with buttermilk and nasturtiums: sweet, salty and sour all combined beautifully to produce a dish that perfectly encapsulates contemporary Irish cooking. 

Though meat and fish fare well cooked in hay, vegetables also take well to its complex flavours. In my recent work, The Irish Cook Book, I included a recipe for kohlrabi baked in hay to showcase the ancient and the modern of contemporary Ireland. If you can’t get kohlrabi - though they are turning up in increasing numbers in vegetable delivery boxes - substitute a cauliflower, beetroot or celeriac and cook in the same manner. The cooking time may differ though. 

How to hay bake kohlrabi

Peel four kohlrabi and fry in 50ml of oil and 100g of butter. As the butter browns, add some fresh thyme and gently baste the kohlrabi until they are golden brown.

Line an oven tray with some hay and place the kohlrabi in the centre. Spoon the butter over the top and then cover the kohlrabi with a little more hay. Bake in a 180 degree oven for 45 minutes, until the kohlrabi is tender. To serve, lift the top layer of hay off the kohlrabi and carve each kohlrabi into slices. 

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