The Much Maligned Radish

It used to be that radishes just didn’t get much respect. “Back in the day,” they were relegated to the relish tray, or used sparingly as a garnish. The sad truth was that nobody really thought seriously about eating a radish! Lately it seems that radishes have become something like a rock star in the culinary world. And today, you never know where you’ll find them.

But before we get too far into the radish patch, I think a short lesson on radishes is in order. The University of Illinois does a much better job of explaining than I could:

Radish is a cool-season, fast-maturing, easy-to-grow vegetable. Garden radishes can be grown wherever there is sun and moist, fertile soil, even on the smallest city lot. Early varieties usually grow best in the cool days of early spring, but some later-maturing varieties can be planted for summer use. The variety French Breakfast holds up and grows better than most early types in summer heat if water is supplied regularly. Additional sowings of spring types can begin in late summer, to mature in the cooler, more moist days of fall. Winter radishes are sown in midsummer to late summer, much as fall turnips. They are slower to develop than spring radishes; and they grow considerably larger, remain crisp longer, are usually more pungent and hold in the ground or store longer than spring varieties.

I think that pretty much covers it. Now onto more interesting things (from the culinary perspective) about this new star of the garden.

In recent years, I’ve become a huge fan of radishes. We serve them frequently at MorningStar. I use them in salsas, soups, and chopped salads. That’s pretty easy. The radishes add real flavor and freshness to any of these. But that’s just the beginning.

My favorite radish creation is Roasted French Breakfast Radishes. They’re beautiful, flavorful, elegant, and maybe even a little mysterious. And they’re great for anytime, even breakfast! Sometimes I combine radishes with other root vegetables like beets, sweet potatoes, onion, and turnips. I roast them, toss them in a little balsamic vinegar, and Voila! I’ve got an extraordinary side dish, or even main course for a lite meal.

I also love to add roasted radishes (usually the heartier varieties) to bisques, like the Salmon Leek Bisque our guests at MorningStar have grown to love. The roasted radishes add a real depth of flavor to the bisque, along with some beautiful color and texture.

If I’m really lucky – that is, if someone in the Test Kitchen hasn’t absconded with all of the fresh radishes from the garden – I slice a few onto my sandwiches. Why, I might even make a radish sandwich, like they do for Tea Time in Great Britain. But then, that’s back to the old school, isn’t it? But that really doesn’t matter.

Next time you’re at a Farmer’s Market, why not take a fresh new look at this old standby that’s risen to stardom. Then add some to your menu next time you’re entertaining. You won’t believe the response you’ll get. Even those who, for one reason or other, claim to hate radishes will change their minds. And, once again, you’ll be a culinary hero. That’s happening more often these days, isn’t it?!?

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