Thursday, June 13, 2024

Discover the humble radish’s highly delectable appeal

“What about radishes?” said my friend. “Write about them!”

OK, I thought, wondering if there were ways to eat them other than raw in salads or as an accompaniment to tacos. I was in for a surprise.

Turns out that roasting radishes, like with some of their root vegetable siblings, tames their sharpness a bit and gives them a mild flavor that’s similar to turnips.

Their characteristic spiciness comes from naturally occurring chemical compounds (the same as in wasabi, mustard and horseradish), influenced by various factors, including the weather: the hotter the climate they’re grown in, the spicier they’ll be. Radishes need to be harvested properly, as they become tough and bitter if left in the ground too long.

I always encourage you to shop locally, direct from the farmer if possible, to get the freshest produce. Radishes are another instance where the fresher they are, the brighter the taste and crisper the flesh. That’s also your best chance to find other radish varieties that have different colors, shapes and sizes.

Daikon, sometimes called Japanese radish, are large white tubers, eaten cooked in soups and side dishes more than raw. Depending on where you are, these can sometimes be found in your local mercado or grocery store.

A radish sculpted to look like the Virgin of Guadalupe for "Night of the Radishes" in Oaxaca.
A radish sculpted to look like the Virgin of Guadalupe.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the radish’s claim to fame: the annual Noche de los Rábanos, “Night of the Radishes,” celebrated in Oaxaca city every year on December 23. (I’ve never been, but it’s definitely on my rapidly-expanding “Must-See List” once this pandemic is over.)

While no one really knows who started carving radishes in Oaxaca, the unusual Christmas tradition began in 1897, when the then mayor decided to start an annual competition.

Nowadays, a special variety of radish is grown by the city government in a designated plot, fertilized heavily and left to grow long past a “normal” harvest time, which is how they get such strange shapes and gigantic sizes.

Five days before the event, the radishes are harvested and distributed to registered contestants, and the artistry begins. Participants carve the often-huge red-and-white tubers into an amazing array of religious figures, scenarios and creatures, which are then displayed in the main plaza.

The event is so popular that lines stretch for miles with people waiting to view the radish creations, which begin to wilt after only a few hours, although the display is left up for two or three days.

Back in your kitchen, the artistry may be less impressive but hopefully tastier! Try mincing the common round, red radish and adding it to chicken or tuna salad. Slice or cut radishes into thin matchsticks and use them in tacos or quesadillas, especially with carne asada. You can scatter them over nachos. The possibilities are nearly endless: add thin rounds to toast and cream cheese, put slices in sandwiches, toss with pesto and pasta or try any of the recipes listed here. Happy eating!

These roasted radishes will melt in your mouth.
These roasted radishes will melt in your mouth.

Butter-Glazed Roasted Radishes

Halve radishes if they’re on the bigger side; otherwise, leave whole.

  • 2 lb. radishes
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • 3 Tbsp. butter
  • 2-3 Tbsp. minced fresh cilantro or parsley

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Line baking sheet with parchment or foil. In a bowl, toss radishes with just enough olive oil to coat; season with salt. Arrange in even layer on baking sheet. Roast, stirring occasionally, until radishes are tender and lightly browned, about 40 minutes.

Melt butter in a medium skillet. Add radishes and toss. Remove from heat, stir in minced herbs. Season with salt if needed. — Serious Eats

Honey and lime juice mix well with radishes' natural spiciness.
Honey and lime juice mix well with radishes’ natural spiciness.

Radish Escabéche

  • ⅓ cup fresh lime juice
  • 1 Tbsp. honey
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 bunch radishes, trimmed, thinly sliced
  • ½ small white onion, thinly sliced
  • ¼ cup fresh mint or cilantro
  • 1–3 serrano or jalapeno chiles, thinly sliced, to taste

Whisk lime juice, honey and salt in a medium bowl until honey is dissolved. Add remaining ingredients; stir. Chill and serve.

Sauteed Radishes with Bacon

  • 2-3 slices bacon
  • ¾ lb. radishes, halved
  • 2 tsp. apple cider vinegar
  • ½ tsp. sugar
  • ¼ cup fresh cilantro or flat-leaf parsley
  • Salt and pepper

Cook bacon until crisp; remove from pan and chop or break into bite-sized pieces.

Add radishes to same pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, 8–10 minutes. Pour off all but 1 Tbsp. fat.

Add vinegar and sugar. Toss with herbs; season with salt and pepper.

Radish Raita

This refreshing side-dish salad is based on a traditional Indian recipe and provides a cooling balance to spicy foods.

  • 1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
  • ⅓ cup chopped fresh mint and/or cilantro, plus more for serving
  • 1 serrano chile, seeded, minced
  • 2 Tbsp. minced red onion
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
  • 1 cup coarsely grated red radishes, plus more for serving
  • Salt

Mix together yogurt, herbs, chile, onion and lime juice. Gently fold in radishes; season with salt. Top with cilantro and grated radish.

Radishes are tubers that can grow to an astounding size.
Radishes are tubers that can grow to an astounding size.

Roasted Radish, Spinach & Herb Frittata

Spice up your favorite frittata recipe with sliced or halved radishes!

  • 10 oz. frozen spinach (thawed)
  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 3 bunches radishes, cleaned, trimmed, cut into small wedges (about 3 cups)
  • 1 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 celery stalk, thinly sliced
  • 1 serrano chile, sliced
  • Salt and pepper
  • 8 eggs, whisked
  • Optional: ½ tsp. garam masala, fresh basil leaves and crumbled feta cheese

Preheat oven to 350 F. Squeeze and drain as much water as possible out of thawed spinach.

Heat oil in an ovenproof skillet over high, and cook radishes for 3 minutes without stirring. Carefully turn, exposing browned undersides, and cook, again undisturbed, until browned but not yet tender, about 3 minutes more. Reduce heat to medium-high.

Add leek, celery and chile. Cook, stirring, until softened but not browned, 6–8 minutes. Stir in garam masala if using, and cook until fragrant, 1 minute. Add spinach, separating any clumps; season with salt and pepper.

Remove from heat. Stir in eggs until evenly distributed. Transfer to oven and bake until eggs are set, 12–18 minutes. Remove and let sit 10 minutes.

Top with basil and feta. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Janet Blaser is the author of the best-selling book, Why We Left: An Anthology of American Women Expats, featured on CNBC and MarketWatch. A retired journalist, she has lived in Mexico since 2006.

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