Red, red radish

Posted by Jenni

This is the bunch of radishes that came in our first CSA box this season. My kids wolfed down the mild white ones before they reached the fridge (see the stem stumps?) and some of the red and purple ones as well.

I’m not so enthusiastic. Radishes are a disappointment to me in the same way herbal teas were when I was a pre-teen. The bright orange liquid steaming from a mug looked gorgeous and smelled like a wintry concoction of clovey goodness. But the flavor? Not the sibling of cinnamon-topped apple cider I’d been led to expect. False aroma!

Maybe I’d like it better if it were a necklace.

I love how radishes look. As cheerful baubles at the ends of green stems, beautiful bi-color discs in salads, bunched up in displays at the market. They have a satisfying, watery crunch.

I try to like eating them. I cut them into slivers and take pretty pictures of them. I enjoy, and sometimes even crave, the greens (sautéed with garlic, brightening up a pesto, torn into my salad bowl). But the peppery assault of the raw roots isn’t something I want to eat every day.

But some people must because radishes have been around for a long, long time. The radish is said to have originated in China though its true origin predates written history. The vegetable spread to Egypt and Greece, Japan and eventually Europe, where the now-familiar red varieties were developed. The likenesses of radishes were carved of gold and offered to Greek gods. Giant varieties are carved to celebrate Noche de los Rabanos (Night of the Radish) each December in Oaxaca. They’ve been said to aid kidney function and promote liver and digestive health. They’re cooked with onions and garlic, sauteed, roasted and sliced thin on open-faced teatime sandwiches. The world would be less the world as it is now without the radish, I suppose.

Thinking my problem with Raphanus sativus is an assumption that it’s a raw-only veggie, I looked around for a recipe.

I ran across a pretty post on pickled radishes (she got the recipe from I’m a bit of a lazy veggie eater but since we’re still getting radishes in our weekly box, I decided to try them out. It’s beautiful, quick to make and brightens up the plate.

In my version, I didn’t use rice vinegar because, dang it, some dark orange specks in the vinegar turned out to be from the rusting lid of the jar I was storing it in. I decided to use apple cider vinegar and cut back on the sugar instead. But I was out of that, too.

I have a suspicion that this recipe will work with just about anything because I ended up using a mixture of red wine vinegar and balsamic simply because it was all I had. The robust vinegar combined well with the ginger and salted radishes (though I’ll cut them in eighths, not quarters, next time). These little pickles are tart-sweet and so pretty. I like them.

So I’m glad to have a go-to radish recipe.

But I also had a revelation about raw radishes. I discovered that salt + radish = tasty.

At a party, a friend served chunks of radish next to a bowl holding a shallow layer of salt. For dipping. Hmm. I dipped the white flesh into the salt. Does the salt somehow leach the heat from the radish? Or was I so enamored with the salt combined with the radish flavor that I forgot about the heat? I don’t know. But either way, how did I not know about this classic trick before? Now I’m finding myself digging in the fridge for a radish just so I can slice and salt one down.

And someone else feels the same way. When I offered my daughter the pickled version (I thought it would be a slam dunk – they’re marinated in sugared vinegar) she tasted one, grimaced and said, “No thanks. Mommy, would you slice some up and put salt on them again?”

The radishes are now disappearing before the greens are gone, a departure from last radish season, to be sure.

If you’re anything like me, radishes don’t tend to make the shopping list. But this week, grab a bunch and come back on Thursday for a few more radish ideas from Chie. Maybe you’ll find a way to like them, too.

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