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Think of radishes in a new light

By Jackie Varriano
The Seattle Times

Think of that one thing in your house that has been there so long, you’ve completely forgotten about it. Maybe it’s a medal you got from running your first 5K, or maybe it’s that adorable knickknack from your last vacation — whatever it might be, I’m betting you feel the same way about that thing as you do about radishes.

That is to say, you loved it once.

The best season for radishes locally is spring — but they are available at markets year-round. And I think that’s why (despite their vibrant red color), we just stop seeing the crimson bunches after a while. Every now and again, I’ll pass them in the produce aisle and think, “Huh. I love radishes. I should get some!” And there they go, topped and tailed, scrubbed of dirt and placed in a little bowl of water in my fridge. I have every intention of doing more with them than just slicing them for salad, but before I know it, that little bowl of water has formed a lid of ice (how is this even possible?), and it’s all over.

But now it’s spring, and time for new beginnings. I vow to forget about radishes no more. Join me, won’t you?

Although the radishes we are most accustomed to are the red globe-shaped ones called “Cherry Belle” or “Champion,” springtime will yield quite a few varieties. You’ll see carrot-shaped white icicle radishes, elongated red-to-white ombre French breakfast radishes and multihued Easter egg radishes.

Each has its own level of spice, but if you peel the skin and choose to braise, roast or even quickly sauté them, that spice will mellow greatly, giving way to a completely different vegetable. Yet I’m a firm believer that not all radishes should be roasted. Some cookbooks will compare radishes to turnips or even rutabagas — but if there are ever vegetables people are less excited about than radishes, it’s those two.

French breakfast radishes should only be eaten raw. Milder than some, these are the radishes that should be sprinkled with flaky salt and dragged through butter. They should be sliced paper-thin and scattered atop a toasted Everything bagel with a schmear of plain or smoked salmon cream cheese. They should be chopped and mixed with celery, walnuts, blue cheese and a nice lemony vinaigrette before being scooped up with whole boat-shaped cups of endive.

On the other hand, squatty Easter egg radishes are wonderful pan-seared, sautéed or roasted. When too large, these radishes tend to turn tough and bitter, which can be helped by cooking. Still, even small, delicate springtime Easter egg radishes are delicious cooked. Slice in half, and toss with olive oil and sliced fennel. Place in the bottom of a preheated Dutch oven, and use them as the base layer for roasted chicken. Alternately, sear in a pan with scallions and unsalted butter. Finish with a squirt of fresh lemon, and serve alongside poached salmon and boiled, buttery new potatoes.

It's spring, and time for new beginnings, and perhaps a vow to forget about radishes no more. (Quentin Bargate/Dreamstime/TNS)

Icicle radishes are another variety that are good raw. These should be scrubbed and chopped, added to your favorite tuna salad with a sprinkling of sunflower seeds or hunks of creamy avocado. Toss them with olive oil and vinegar, and throw them atop fish tacos. They’ll also bring an unexpected crunch to a sour cream-based potato salad or even a simple spring green salad spiked with fresh herbs and English peas.

Radish greens shouldn’t be ignored, either. Radishes grow quickly, often maturing in less than a month, so the greens are almost always still tender. However, the overall texture and light bitterness mean the greens are best when roasted right alongside the radish itself, or blitzed in a food processor for pesto. Use the greens’ pesto as a sauce for that poached salmon and new potatoes. Drizzle atop your sliced radishes and cream cheese on a bagel, or mix with a little crème fraîche, and slather over a sliced, toasted baguette, finished with chopped raw radish.

Whatever you do, give those radishes a week in the spotlight before we forget about them again.

RADISH GREEN PESTO

Greens from 1 large bunch of radishes

2 cloves garlic

Juice from 1/2 a lemon

1/4 cup slivered almonds or sunflower seeds

1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese

1/3 cup olive oil

Salt and ground pepper

 Fill your sink or a large bowl with cold water, and dunk the greens, being sure to remove all dirt clumps. You might have to swap out the water for fresh, depending on how muddy the greens are.

 Place the garlic and a pinch of salt in your food processor, and pulse until the garlic is minced. Add greens, lemon juice, almonds or sunflower seeds, and Parmesan, and pulse again until things look granulated, but not to a total paste. Scrape into a bowl and, with a spatula, fold in the olive oil slowly. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.