The Vegetable Butcher Wants to Guide You to Your Radish Soul Mate

published Jun 1, 2015
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(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)

Radishes will seduce you. They come in endless colors, shapes, and sizes — perfectly round, interestingly oblong, large and small, polished and glossy, hot pink, purple, fluorescent green, and white. Bite into a radish and you’ll get hooked on its signature, peppery bite. The attraction is so easy. But the question is, do you really know what to do with radishes?

Here’s a guide to finding the right radishes for you.

(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)

I’ll admit, it took me some time to get acquainted with radishes. I had to see beyond the entry-level, round, red-skinned table radish — you know, the ones that often appear dry (and tasteless) in thoughtless garden salads. I had to get out there and explore fresh radishes and the whole world of inspiring and elegant varieties that exist at farmers markets, specialty grocers, and Asian markets across the country.

Now I take home every hot root my heart desires. You can, too. Once you experience their variety and versatility, you’ll be shaving, shredding, roasting, braising, pureeing, and dipping your way into a radish relationship.

Black Radishes

Black radishes (below, on the right) have a strong punch, the most assertive of the bunch. Thinly slice them and serve them raw. They are a wonderful accompaniment to a warm, cheesy dip. (You may wish to soak slices in water for a couple of hours to mellow them out. I like them straight-up.)

Shred black radishes and combine them with sour cream, crème fraîche, or Greek yogurt and herbs to make a spicy condiment. You can also roast black radishes. Dice them, toss them in olive oil, salt, and pepper; roast until lightly browned and tender. When cooked, black radishes take on a rich, turnip-like flavor.

(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)

Daikon Radish

Turn this radish into a meaty main dish. Cut daikon into 1/4-inch rounds and simmer them briefly in a flavorful broth with noodles, shiitake mushrooms, and bok choy. Cook daikon and aromatic vegetables in stock until soft, then puree them with butter and cream or miso to make a creamy and velvety soup.

Make fritters out of daikon, a play on the traditional daikon cakes you find on a dim sum cart: Shred the daikon on a box grater, then weight the daikon strands in a colander. Squeeze the daikon to release any remaining moisture. Toss with rice flour, grated onion, or thinly sliced scallion and an egg (and perhaps some shredded carrot for color and sweetness). Pan-fry the cakes until golden on both sides and serve with a dollop of crème fraîche and chives or a sweetened soy dipping sauce.

French Radishes

Reserve precious, baby roots for simple dipping in softened butter — finish with a sprinkle of flaked sea salt.

Larger specimens bring some serious heat. Shave them thinly into rounds on a mandoline to temper their bite (or slice them lengthwise for a more elegant cut). Spread softened, salted butter (whipped with goat cheese, if you wish, for a little tang) over crostini. Fan the radishes on top. Sprinkle them with flaked sea salt. Drizzle the finished crostini with a good olive oil or radish greens pureed with olive oil and a touch of lemon.

Either option is a simple and beautiful compliment to a glass of wine (think rosé) that is begging to be enjoyed outside.

Red Table Radishes

There are countless ways to enjoy these common radishes. Shave them into paper-thin rounds and toss them into a salad with mustardy vinaigrette or dip them into a hummus-like spread — whole, halved, or cut into wedges. You can toss them in olive oil, then roast or grill them. You can even braise them in butter and vegetable stock (delicious).

I like to take advantage of their peppery, red skins and blend them into a show-stopping, hot pink vinaigrette to toss with greens or asparagus and sugar snap peas. Just chop the red roots in a food processor or blender with red wine vinegar and a touch of Dijon mustard. Stream in olive oil while you blend the mixture into the brightest, spiciest vinaigrette — I dare say — you have ever seen.

Watermelon Radishes

Also known as Beauty Heart Radishes, these Asian radishes with green-tinged skin, and deep pink flesh are absolute stunners. Take advantage of their glorious insides by serving them raw. (Their color fades when cooked.) They beg to be the star of a crudité platter — cut into thin rounds on a mandoline. They will turn any green salad, or vegetable and grain salad into a visual, spicy dream.

You can also use them as a garnish on top of a miso and noodle soup. They will add color, heat, and the kind of beauty that only nature can provide.

Tip: If you can’t take the heat, peel your radishes. (Their punch is mostly delivered through their skins.) Most importantly, please, please cut radishes right before you use them to prevent them from drying out and losing flavor.

(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)