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Fresh spring radishes add bright flavor to salads

May 10, 2019

Last week we resumed our favorite Saturday morning ritual – wandering through the Historic Lewes Farmers Market. Despite the overcast skies, it seemed as though everyone in town woke up with the same plan. We encountered a few new vendors at the market as well as many familiar faces, all with generous supplies. No matter where you looked, you could find eye-catching arrays of beautiful food.

While I was browsing for inspiration, I was specifically shopping for fresh radishes. You can find them packed in cellophane bags at the supermarket all year long, but these warmer spring days are ideal for the swift growth of smaller, more tender varieties with thin skins and bright flavor. Varieties in autumn and winter tend to be spicer and tougher; the grocery-store radishes are typically dried out.

By way of definition, the radish is an edible root originally domesticated in Europe. In Latin, its name is radix, meaning root, while its genus in Greek, “Raphanus” or “quickly appearing,” refers to its speedy germination. The ones we’re seeing at the market now were likely planted just four weeks ago.

Radishes come in an array of colors – purple, red, white and black – with a juicy texture and flavor ranging from sweet to sharp. They can be round or long and cylindrical with a bright white flesh. The best radishes will be plump and firm, with a slender “tail” and leaves still attached. And, if those leaves are wilted, expect the radishes to be mealy compared to those with fresh, unwilted leaves.

Years ago, recipes instructed the cook to cut off the tops and discard them; now we know to add these spicy greens to the salad mix or stir fry. Once you get your radishes home, be prepared to have those greens wilt almost immediately if you put them in the refrigerator. The better storage approach is to separate them from the root, then store the leaves like any other salad greens and eat them within a day or two.

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 sweeter cousin, the turnip. Meanwhile, the greens, thick enough to crisp, do a wonderful job of delivering the signature sweetness from a drizzle of Balsamic vinegar.

Since the radish has always had a place as a salad vegetable, the two versions of radish salad give it center stage. One includes bright flavors of citrus and mint; the other combines radishes and snipped chives with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Of course, sliced or julienned radish makes a colorful addition to your tossed salad.

One of my favorite ways to enjoy spring radishes is on an open-faced sandwich. Thin slices of baguette are spread with unsalted butter and topped with paper-thin radish slices (consider using a mandolin for this step). They’re topped with a sprinkle of sea salt and scattered with chives (see photo). The combination is a lovely mix of crunchy, salty, sharp and sweet – a lovely addition to your Mother’s Day breakfast menu!

Radish Sandwich

8 thin slices of baguette
1 bunch radishes
2 T unsalted butter, softened
1 t sea salt
snipped chives

Wash radishes and trim off stringy roots. Cut off greens and reserve for another dish. With a mandolin, slice the radishes as thin as possible (taking care not to slice your fingers). Spread butter in an even layer on each slice of bread. Arrange radishes in an overlapping pattern across the butter. Sprinkle with sea salt and chives. Yield: 4 appetizer servings.

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 stringy 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 until the greens are crispy, about 10 minutes. Remove the greens to a serving plate and continue roasting the radishes until tender, about another 5 minutes. Yield: 2 servings.

Citrus Radish Salad

12 radishes
1 T sea salt
water
2 T lime juice
1 T orange juice
1 T 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. Add salt and pepper, to taste. Yield: 2 to 4 servings.

Radish Salad

2 bunches radishes
1 T olive oil
1T snipped chives
2 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 (quarter, if very large) 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.