27 April 2011

The Amazing Disappearing Radishes

Table of radishes
On a fine April day at the market last year, I stopped in my tracks. All that had been left of an earlier mountain of radishes was some leafy shrapnel and a sign indicating what you could have had, had you been quick enough. It was like vegetal strip mining.

I thought the radish was an overlooked vegetable until I recalled their swift disappearance on that occasion. Suddenly, radishes are appearing in full force on restaurant menus around town. Could it really be that radishes are so desirable? Or were market shoppers lured by the vivid green and red display? Or are the French, who adore radishes with butter and salt, stealthily infiltrating our fine city?

Whatever it is radishes are here and at their best now until around July.

What’s so great about radishes?

They are satisfyingly crunchy and peppery. They come with lovely names attached, such as French breakfast, Easter egg and watermelon. And they come in equally charming colors—pinks, whites, purples, blacks, reds and white tipped. They’re also very nutritious.

The radish’s roots trace to China and Egypt but get their name from the Greek word for quickly appearing. They’re the most quickly harvested vegetable and also protect the garden from critters. Radishes are yet another member of the large family of crucifers such as mustards, turnips, broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage.

How to choose and prepare

Select firm radishes without blemishes and splits in them. To keep radishes fresh, remove the green tops and store in a plastic bag in the fridge. Use within a few days of purchasing. But don’t toss those greens! You can make a radish greens soup.

Jar of pickled radishesYou can do most anything with a radish—pickling, braising, (see below), poaching and broiling. Thinly sliced, they can be added to fish tacos or made into slaws (combined with other shredded vegetables like cabbage). Toss them on a salad with crumbled blue cheese and nuts. Shred and mix them with butter, salt and pepper to spread on bread. They are a good foil to sweet flavors like shaved fennel. Or citrus like lime and orange. They pair well with dill, chives and other herbs. To make the pickled radishes at left, heat some cider vinegar and salt, add a little water and then pour into a jar of sliced radishes sprinkled with herbs de Provence.

The recipe below is a perfect excuse to grab a bunch of radishes. Get them fast but don’t knock anyone over in the process!



Sweet and Sour Braised Radishes
from Gregory Perrault of June

Greg is serving up these braised radishes with wild steelhead and a yogurt fennel seed sauce, green garlic and cilantro. “The radishes provide a nice contrast in texture, flavor, and color from the other components of the dish,” said Greg. He’s in the midst of experimenting himself, so you might try these with red or white wine and maybe your favorite herbs. In other words, feel free to improvise.

3 bunches radishes (any type)
1 cup sugar
1 cup vinegar (champagne or white wine)
2 cups white wine
1 T butter
Salt and pepper to taste

Caramelize the sugar: heat the sugar in a medium pot over medium heat. Add just a little water to help the sugar dissolve and prevent burning. You don’t need to stir; just allow the sugar to heat up, keeping an eye on it. When it turns a nice caramel color, add the vinegar and simmer until it starts to thicken. Then add the wine and return to a simmer. Add radishes, either whole or cut, and gently simmer for 2-3 hours, or until they are at a desired level of tenderness. Add the butter and stir till radishes are glazed. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm or at room temperature.

You can also make the radishes ahead of time and re-warm the mixture just before serving, adding the butter at the end and simmering until the radishes are warmed through and glazed.