Two ways with Radishes

by Danielle Charles

The radish has been a relatively recent addition to my table. For a long time, I wanted to like them. I really did. Their bright colors and fun shapes – torpedo breakfast radishes or fat jolly globes –  the way they pop up out of the soil and just beg to be plucked out – how could you not want to like them? But time after time, I’d bring them home from the store or the farmer’s market to find them weeks later, at the bottom of the vegetable drawer, in a horribly dejected state of shriveledness. Needless to say, my compost heap has enjoyed a good number of radishes.

But in the curious way these things happen, my taste buds suddenly shifted. It was a bunch of perfectly round Easter egg radishes that did it,  pearlescent skin in shades of purple, red, white and pink that sparkled under the grocery store lighting like little jewels. Under normal conditions, I might not have been so susceptible, but it was late winter, at the point when anything besides a carrot or head of cabbage feels decadent and exciting. I got my prize purchase home and placed them in a bowl, a tiny dish of sea salt next to them and the end of a stick of butter wrapped up in foil besides that. Each radish was spread with butter, flecked in coarse grains of salt, and then eaten.  Maybe it was that I had read the recipe in French cookbook, and therefore felt quite sophisticated as I was eating them, or maybe it was the way that the peppery punch of each crisp radish bite was mellowed with the sweetness of butter and brought alive by the salt. Either way, I ate the entire bunch myself. Never since that day has a bunch of radishes been neglected in my fridge.

In fact, I became so enamored with the radish, that I’ve even planted them in the garden. And what satisfaction, I will tell you, to watch their bright crimson heads pop out of the soil to signify their readiness. Plucking a radish is like popping bubble wrap – a simple act that seems to satisfy some deep and in-explainable desire – but unlike bubble wrap, there is another wave of pleasure to come from eating them. Even better is that they are simplicity itself to grow, and appear without fail or fuss in 3-4 weeks after planting, providing something to harvest proudly in late spring along with your early lettuces, spinach and arugula.

I’ve played with the radish quite a bit since my transformation – adding them thinly sliced to Mexican style slaws dressed up with lime juice and chile, or mixing them with early peas, mint and thick slices of fresh Mozzarella. I’ve minced them into butter to be spread on crusty baguette,  I’ve pickled them with thinly sliced onions, I’ve blended them into soups. But to be honest, I have found nothing that truly tops the simple elegance and sophistication of eating them like the French.

Pungent radishes stimulate digestion, and thus rare great served as a digestive stimulating “appetizer” before a meal. Here are two recipes you might try, aside from the “French” style of course!

Radish Butter

Adapted from Deborah Madison’s recipe in Local Flavors. Makes 1/2 cup.

  • 6 Radishes and their greens
  • 4 tablespoons organic butter
  • grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh mint
  • one pinch of high quality sea salt, such as fleur de sel
  • freshly grated pepper

Wash the radishes and trim off the long roots and leaves, setting the leaves aside. Slice the radishes into thin rounds, then slice the rounds cross-wise into narrow strips, so that each strip is tipped with color. Chop up the leaves so that you have about 1/2 cup.

Mix the butter with the lemon zest until its softened, and then stir in the radishes, radish leaves, mint, salt and pepper until well combined. Serve spread on slices of crusty baguette or on a dark pumpernickel bread.

Easy Onion and Radish Pickle

This is a beautifully simple recipe that makes a great topping for salads, sandwiches or even to dress up a burger.  Slicing the vegetables as thinly as you can will make the pickle really shine. 

  • 1 small or 1/2 large onion, sliced very thinly
  • 10 radishes, sliced into thin rounds
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar or lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon sliced red chili or chili flakes (optional)

Combine everything in a bowl and mix well. Allow to sit for 10-15 minutes before eating, which will soften the onion and get the juices really running.