Rejoice in spring arrival of the radish

fresh radish salad with greens

By Margi Lenga Kahn, Special to the Jewish Light

Spring is my favorite season. Every day brings something new to get excited about: blossoming trees in vivid red, purple, white and pink; clumps of brightly colored daffodils and tulips; perennials pushing their way out of the hard winter ground; grass changing from lifeless brown to lush green; and the cacophony of birds back from their winter vacation. It is a feast for our eyes and ears. 

Spring is also a feast for our palates, as farmers harvest a constantly changing variety of fresh vegetables and fruits.  

First to arrive at markets are radishes, a favorite among local farmers because of how quickly they mature. Sadly, radishes are the Rodney Dangerfield of the vegetable world: They get no respect. Until recently in the United States, radishes were pigeonholed as a garnish. You’ve seen those intricately carved roses that make otherwise boring buffet platters pop. They do look pretty, but guess what? They also taste great. 

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Late food historian Gil Marks claimed a part of Jewish cuisine since Talmudic times. And even today in many European and Middle Eastern cuisines, radishes are popular, primarily eaten raw and appreciated for their crisp texture and unique tart, cleansing flavor. The radish greens, which many of us regularly discard, are used in these cuisines, added to warm soups and tossed into salads with other fresh greens.

I associate radishes with the delicious Sunday morning breakfasts my Polish-born mother, Ann Lenga, made when I was growing up. She combined coarsely chopped radishes, cucumbers, green onions and fresh dill with smetana, a European-style sour cream with a rich and tart flavor. She seasoned the mixture with salt and black pepper and served the dish alongside slices of toasted rye bread.

Oh, that memory makes my mouth water. 

So when I spotted stacks of those perfect crimson orbs topped with bright green leaves at the Maplewood farmers market, I couldn’t resist. I filled a bag with a few bunches of radishes, along with a big handful of fresh sorrel that I bought on impulse.

On that first day at the outdoor farmers market it felt more like winter than spring, which made me wonder how radishes could be harvested so early in the season. I called Lee Abraham, who with his wife,  Ingrid, owns Berger Bluff Farms in Berger, Missouri. (I  featured them both in my column in the October 2010 issue of  Oy! Magazine.)  

The Abrahams no longer sell at local markets, but they do sell wholesale to many area restaurants and are part of a group of farmers whose crops make up the Fair Shares CCSA (Combined Community Supported Agriculture at fairshares.org).

Lee explained that while most radishes are seeded outdoors in the spring through midsummer, many of the early varieties we see at markets are grown under tunnel hoops to shield them from erratic early spring weather. 

“They also are one of the fastest vegetables to grow,” he explained. “Snow Belles and Cherry Belles take less than 30 days to mature. And because they are grown in cooler spring climates, they are milder than varieties you begin to see late summer. The Black Radish and Chinese Long White Radish, which are seeded midsummer, are denser and more pungent. And because they are heartier, they can be stored through the winter.”

Radishes, which are classified as root vegetables, are quite nutritious. They are composed of the root, or actual radish, and the greens, which are edible and have a milder flavor than the radish.  A single serving of radishes provides up to 25 percent of the daily recommended allowance of vitamin C, is believed to prevent inflammation and even some cancers, and helps boost our immune system. 

Radish greens, a significant source of calcium, also contain iron, magnesium, folate, and vitamins A, C and K.

After purchasing radishes, it is important to cut away the greens and store them separately. If left attached, the radishes (roots) will leach all of the moisture from the greens and cause them to go limp. The roots can be stored in the refrigerator for about a week, the greens for about three days.  

Radishes can be enjoyed in so many ways. Raw and unpeeled, they add tang and crunch to any salad. Thinly sliced radishes can be arranged in a single layer on top of a piece of toast smeared with some good butter or mayonnaise and sprinkled with fine sea salt. When used as a garnish for cold soups such as cucumber, avocado, borscht or gazpacho, radishes add a crisp and flavorful contrast. 

Most of us have had raw sliced radishes in salads. But radishes, like other vegetables, can also be cooked, and the heat transforms the radishes, mellowing their peppery flavor and making them sweet and succulent. 

Because radishes have an affinity for sweet butter, you can sauté sliced radishes in butter in a skillet over medium-low heat until tender. Then serve the slices fanned atop crostini or bruschetta that has been smeared with crème fraîche, fresh ricotta or goat cheese. Sprinkled with snipped fresh chives, this simple preparation makes a pretty and tasty appetizer to enjoy with a glass of white wine. 

Spring is the perfect time to give radishes another try. Be brave: rinse and cut a radish in half, sprinkle it with a pinch of salt and pop it into your mouth. Or add both the roots and greens, raw, to your tossed salad. If the pungency of the radish doesn’t appeal to you, lightly salt cut radishes and allow them to “sweat” in a colander for five to 10  minutes. Rinse and pat dry before using. You can also peel raw radishes or steam them for five minutes to tame some of their heat.

Oh, and that sorrel I just couldn’t pass up? I made a vegetable lentil soup using both my radish greens and the citrusy sorrel. The result? Spectacular! 

I have included two recipes, one that uses roasted radishes, and one that uses them raw. Hope you enjoy.

Margi Lenga Kahn is the mother of five and grandmother of five. A cooking instructor at the Kitchen Conservatory, she is working on a project to preserve the stories and recipes of heritage cooks. She welcomes your comments and suggestions at [email protected]


Composed Asian Tuna Salad with Ginger and Radishes 

Dressing: 

3 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus 1 tsp. grated zest 

2 tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice, plus 1 tsp. grated zest 

2 tbsp. canola oil 

2 tbsp. grated yellow onion 

2 tsp. finely grated fresh ginger 

1 garlic clove, peeled and finely minced 

3 tbsp. soy sauce 

1/4 c. granulated sugar 

1 tsp. toasted sesame oil 

Salad: 

1-6 oz. can light tuna fish, packed in vegetable oil 

3 c. baby spinach, washed and spun dry 

4-5 radishes, trimmed and julienned  

4 green onions (scallions), trimmed and thinly sliced 

1/8-1/4 cup pickled ginger, drained and julienned 

Fresh ground black pepper, to taste 

Toasted sesame seeds, for garnish  

Directions: 

Preheat oven to 475 degrees.

Toss vegetables separately in a bowl (radishes, carrots, and turnips) with 2 tbsp. olive oil. Scatter each vegetable onto a large baking pan and sprinkle lightly with kosher salt. Roast until tender, about 10-12 minutes; set aside.

While vegetables roast, stir together ricotta cheese, lemon zest, and lemon juice in a small bowl. Season mixture with salt and pepper, to taste; set aside.

To make mint pesto, combine mint leaves, walnuts, salt, and olive oil in food processor. Process until smooth. Transfer to a small bowl and stir in Parmesan cheese. If pesto is too thick, thin it out by adding more olive oil.

To serve salad, heat a large skillet over medium heat with 2 tbsp. oil. Thinly slice radish and turnip greens (reserve carrot tops for another use) and toss them into the hot skillet. Cook until just wilted. Lightly salt and scatter the greens onto a platter, or divide between 6-8 salad plates. Mound roasted vegetables over greens. Top with a dollop of ricotta cheese mixture and drizzle with mint pesto.

Makes 6-8 servings.

Dressing: 

Whisk all dressing ingredients together in a small bowl. Set aside until needed, or refrigerate for up to one day.  

Salad: 

Drain oil from can of tuna. Transfer tuna to a small bowl and break into chunks with a fork.  Drizzle tuna with 1 tablespoon of above dressing; set aside.  

Turn spinach onto a large platter with a lip. Add dressing, reserving 2 tablespoons, and toss to evenly coat. Spread spinach out to cover platter; scatter julienned radishes on top. Scatter chunks of tuna over radishes and top with green onions and julienned ginger. Drizzle remaining dressing evenly over salad, season with freshly ground black pepper, and garnish with sesame seeds.  

Makes 2-3 servings.   


 
Roasted Vegetable Salad

Ingredients

2 bunches radishes, greens trimmed and washed separately

2 bunches whole baby carrots, greens trimmed and washed separately

2 bunches small round turnips, greens trimmed and washed separately

Coarse kosher salt for sprinkling

1 cup fresh whole milk ricotta cheese

Zest of 1 lemon

1 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to          taste

1 bunch fresh mint leaves (about 1 cup)

1 tbsp. walnuts

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 c. olive oil, plus more as needed

1/4 c. Parmesan cheese

Directions 

Preheat oven to 475 degrees.

Toss vegetables separately in a bowl (radishes, carrots, and turnips) with 2 tbsp. olive oil. Scatter each vegetable onto a large baking pan and sprinkle lightly with kosher salt. Roast until tender, about 10-12 minutes; set aside.

While vegetables roast, stir together ricotta cheese, lemon zest, and lemon juice in a small bowl. Season mixture with salt and pepper, to taste; set aside.

To make mint pesto, combine mint leaves, walnuts, salt, and olive oil in food processor. Process until smooth. Transfer to a small bowl and stir in Parmesan cheese. If pesto is too thick, thin it out by adding more olive oil.

To serve salad, heat a large skillet over medium heat with 2 tbsp. oil. Thinly slice radish and turnip greens (reserve carrot tops for another use) and toss them into the hot skillet. Cook until just wilted. Lightly salt and scatter the greens onto a platter, or divide between 6-8 salad plates. Mound roasted vegetables over greens. Top with a dollop of ricotta cheese mixture and drizzle with mint pesto.

Makes 6-8 servings.