A recent unscientific survey (okay, I only asked five people) told me that radishes rank as one of the most under-appreciated vegetables around. Possibly because the ones we’re accustomed to finding in the grocery store are often dry and hot – in an irritating, rather than a zesty kind of way – many people don’t give radishes a thought.
What a shame. A fresh radish is juicy and sweet, with a unique pungent, sometimes peppery flavor. Radishes have just the right amount of zip to wake up winter-weary taste buds. Most familiar as cherry-red globes, radishes come in unexpected shapes and sizes, and various varieties are grown in every season. Look for the more unusual purple varieties or the “Easter egg” color mixes for a fun change. Concord- area farms are harvesting spring radishes right now, and they’re worth seeking out.
Radishes, like carrots, are roots, and roots are a plant’s organ of nourishment. Root crops grown in rich, healthy soil are loaded with vitamins and minerals and are a satisfying addition to the diet. At only 16 calories for a 3.5 ounce serving, radishes are a particularly good source of vitamin C and fiber. Try packing a few fresh radishes along with some carrot sticks for a healthy afternoon snack that will tide you over until dinner.
Does spring fever find you yearning to grow a little something? Growing radishes is the closest an impatient vegetable gardener will come to instant gratification. Plant a few seeds in the ground today, and you’ll be harvesting fresh radishes in about three weeks. Child’s play. In fact, my first gardening memory is planting radishes in a tiny corner of the backyard that doubled as the pet cemetery. (Goldfish, that is.) I’m living proof that a 5-year-old who harvests her own radish crop is sure to be a radish lover for life.
This spring, find some fresh radishes at a local farm or, if you’re lucky enough to find them locally grown, at the grocery store or food coop. When you get them home, tear the green tops off, and put them aside. They’re surprisingly tasty in soups or chopped in any stir-fry. Wash the radishes and store them in an air-tight container in the fridge so they’ll be ready to use during the week. A local farmer reminded me that most vegetables will actually last longer if you store them unwashed but, in my experience, washing ahead of time increases the chance that they get used up. We’re busy these days; eliminating as many obstacles as we can makes healthy cooking and eating routines easier.
Feeling artistic? Radish roses are easy to make and show off this vegetable’s inner and outer beauty perfectly. Just cut criss-crosses about two thirds of the way into a clean radish (with its top sliced off) and soak in ice water. Your radish roses will open up into festive blooms that will make your Grandma proud.
Besides the obvious choice of eating whole or sliced radishes crisp and raw, try mixing it up a little. Find the best butter you can find, and mix a few radishes up with it in your food processor. Salt it lightly and add a pinch of white pepper. Serve this colorful, creamy spread as an hors d’oeuvre with simple crackers or toasted slices of a crispy baguette.
Like so many other vegetables that suffer loss of flavor, texture and, sadly, even good looks with long-distance travel, radishes are best eaten close to home. Lucky for us, they’re growing on local farms, right now.
If you’re like those people in my unscientific survey whose last experience with a radish was an unpleasant one, try again. This time, make sure it’s fresh and local.
Eleanor Baron lives, gardens, cooks and writes in Concord, and stalks area farmers markets for fresh, in-season produce. Visit her blog at nourishingwords.net for more ideas and inspiration on incorporating healthy habits into your life.