Farmers market has array of radishes

Radishes of all colors, shapes and sizes adorn this display at the Historic Lewes Farmers Market. BY JACK CLEMONS
June 11, 2012

Last month we resumed our favorite Saturday morning ritual - wandering through the Historic Lewes Farmers Market. Based on the crowds, it seemed as though everyone in town woke up with the same plan. There were a several new vendors and dozens of familiar faces, all with generous supplies of their products. No matter where you looked (or which line you joined) you could find eye-catching arrays of tempting food.

One of the most appealing arrangements was a lush selection of radishes (see photo). We found bunch after bunch nestled in milk crates, including the russet-colored Zlata and the white-tipped French breakfast. Named from the Latin word radix or root, radishes are from the family of cruciferous vegetables that includes cabbage, turnip, cauliflower and horseradish.

Cherry Belle - cherry red with a smooth skin and bright white interior; sharp and snappy flavor

Easter Egg - a combination of three varieties grown together: Plum (purple), Ruby (red) and Snow Belle (white)

French breakfast - red with blunt, white-tipped bottoms; cylindrical, about 2 to 3 inches long; mild, bright flavor

Pink celebration - small, brilliant pink globe; pure white flesh with juicy, sharp flavor

Viola - purple skin with white flesh; small and round with a mild peppery flavor

Zlata - silky yellow, medium-sized; round to plum-shaped with a bright white interior; crunchy texture and mildly spicy flavor

Scholars and historians can’t agree on where the radish originated, as it has been grown from the Orient to the Mediterranean for as long as can be traced. In fifth century BC Greece, the writer Herodotus claimed the radish was on a list of vegetables supposed to have been fed to the Egyptian slaves building the Great Pyramid. For me, radishes belong on the list of foods that make you wonder who would have been the first to suggest eating one.

As you can see in the picture, the radish has green, leafy tops and a bulbous root. The outside skin colors include red, purple, tan and white, usually with a white interior. They are round, oval, turnip-shaped or cylindrical with juicy, peppery-tasting flesh. Years ago, recipes instructed the cook to cut off the tops and discard them; now these spicy greens are added to a salad mix or stir fry.

Radish tops don't stay fresh for very long and will wilt almost immediately in the refrigerator. If you plan to try eating the greens, separate them from the root when you get home from the market. Wash and store the leaves like any other salad greens, and eat them within a day or two. Be sure to select greens from younger plants, since these can become fairly pungent, and a little goes a long way.

I’ve included a recipe for roasting radishes along with their greens. The bulb loses its crunchy texture and sharp bite, tasting more like its cousin, the turnip. Meanwhile, the greens, thick enough to crisp, do a wonderful job of delivering the signature sweetness of Balsamic vinegar. Since the radish has always had a place as a salad vegetable, the two versions of radish salad (below) give it center stage. One includes bright flavors of citrus and mint, the other combines radishes and snipped chives with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

There’s another important feature of the lovely red, globe-shaped radish: its versatility as a sculpted garnish. If you’re handy with a paring knife, you can create radish roses, radish fans or keep the stringy root thread and carve out a mouse. The most delicious feature of the French breakfast radish is its accompaniment, one of my favorite food groups (I hope my primary care physician isn’t reading this) - sweet butter.

French breakfast radishes earned their name from the way they’re eaten: nick off the tail; hold the radish by its green top; slide it through softened butter and sprinkle with sea salt – the radish itself provides the peppery balance. If this seems too decadent, here’s a recipe for radish butter to slather on slices of a crusty baguette - perfect for breakfast.

Radish Butter
6 to 8 radishes
4 T unsalted butter
1 t lemon zest
sea salt, to taste

Trim and wash the radishes. Discard the stems and roughly chop the tender leaves; set aside. Thinly slice the radishes into rounds. Set the rounds into a stack and slice into narrow strips; set aside. Combine the butter and lemon zest. Add the chopped radishes, leaves and a pinch of salt. To serve, spread on slices of crusty bread. Yield: 1/2 C.

Roasted Radishes
1 bunch of radishes
2 T olive oil
2 t Balsamic vinegar
1/2 t sea salt

Preheat oven to 350 F. Wash radishes and trim off roots. Cut off greens and remove stems, retaining leaves. Whisk together oil and vinegar in a mixing bowl. Add radishes and greens, tossing to combine. Spread radishes and greens on a baking pan. Bake for until the greens are crispy, about 10 minutes. Remove the greens to a serving plate and continue roasting the radishes until tender, about 5 minutes.

Citrus Radish Salad
12 radishes
1 T sea salt
2 T lime juice
1 T orange juice
1T chopped mint
salt & pepper, to taste

Wash and trim the radishes. Sprinkle radishes with salt and place in a bowl with enough water to cover. After 15 minutes, rinse and drain the radishes. Whisk together juices and mint in a serving bowl. Add radishes and toss to combine. Adjust seasonings to taste.

Radish Salad
2 bunches radishes
1 T olive oil
2 T snipped chives
3 oz Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
sea salt, to taste

Rinse and trim the radishes. Discard the stems; blot dry the tender greens and arrange them on a serving plate. Slice radishes in half and place in a mixing bowl. Drizzle with olive oil, add chives and toss to combine. Scatter radishes across the greens and shave the cheese over the top. Season to taste with sea salt. Yield: 4 to 6 servings.

Radish roses
Rinse radishes and trim off the tops and bottoms. Set the radish upright on the cutting board and cut a thin slice vertically down one side, cutting about three-quarters of the way into the radish, not all the way down. Make three more additional slices in the same fashion, spacing the cuts evenly around the radish. Inside the first layer of cuts, make a second series of cuts to form an inner row of petals. Place the cut radishes in a bowl with ice cubes and water to cover. Chill in the refrigerator until the radish roses open slightly, about three hours. Drain well and use as a garnish.

Radish fans
Rinse radishes and trim off the tops and bottoms. Set the radish on its side and cut slices 1/8-inch apart along the side. Cut only about three-quarters of the way into the radish, not all the way through. Place the cut radishes in a bowl with ice cubes and water to cover. Chill in the refrigerator until the radish fans open, usually three to four hours. Drain well and use as a garnish.

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