For a long time I avoided radishes, thinking they were only meant to be eaten raw. I was a little put off by their sharp heat, too. But then, one spring a few years ago, inspired by a bunch of lavender and scarlet Easter egg radishes, I rebelled a bit. Why not cook radishes? In fact, why not braise them?
This tangy, bacon-laced recipe was the result, and when it comes to cooking radishes, I've never looked back.
Radishes are a quintessential spring and early summer vegetable. Bright and crunchy with a peppery bite, they are lovely in salads and on bread with butter and salt. But until this recipe I had never cooked them, and in fact it's not very often you see them in hot cooked dishes. Which is a shame, because as they get so juicy and mellow, I think this is really the way to go for the radish-hesitant. In fact, their small size and peppery flavor makes them ideal for a quick evening braise. Unlike potatoes or turnips or other large roots, they require little to no chopping, and they're ready so quickly.
And what's braising, again, you ask? A quick refresher: A braise is a dish where meat, vegetables, (or even fruit!) is cooked hot and fast to brown it for flavor. Then a little liquid is added and the pot is covered and cooked on low until the main ingredient is tender. It's an easy and foolproof way of cooking, and it tends to develop excellent flavor and texture.
Radishes, when braised, still take very little time — a Sunday roast this is not. And yet there is a deliciously rich flavor and texture that comes out of these pretty things. They turn tender, with an initial crispness that collapses in the mouth into a soft and juicy bite. I added a little bacon for flavor (omit if you're vegetarian, of course; this dish is fine without it) and balsamic vinegar and shallots for depth. Fresh spring parsley brightens this up into a supper side dish we are planning on making again very, very soon.
These aren't as pretty as their uncooked counterparts, of course, but we actually prefer their delicious flavor when cooked and deepened with all these flavors.
Radishes Braised with Shallots and Vinegar
1 tablespoon butter
2 slices bacon, diced
2 large shallots, finely sliced
1 pound radishes, about 2 bunches, tops trimmed and radishes sliced in half
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup water
2/3 cup finely chopped Italian parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat the butter and bacon over medium-high heat in a wide, heavy skillet — preferably cast iron. Cook for about 5 minutes. When the bacon is cooked through and getting crispy, place the radishes cut-side down in the pan and cook undisturbed for 2 to 3 minutes or until the bottoms begin to brown. Add the shallots and cook, stirring, for another minute.
Add the balsamic vinegar and the water — the water should just come up around the sides of the radishes. Cover, lower the heat, and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the radishes are tender.
Remove the lid and continue to simmer for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the liquid has reduced into a syrupy sauce. Add the the parsley and stir to wilt.
Season with salt and pepper and serve.
This recipe has been updated — first published April 2008.