Thursday, March 15, 2007

Radish Renaissance

I like to be delighted by what I eat and mostly this begins by what I see. I am the person lingering over produce, caressing mushroom ears and whispering to sweet tempered heads of cabbage. These aren’t merely the actions of a shrewd shopper sizing up the heartiest specimens, but rather these gentle exchanges are the gestures of fondness, they mark my courtship with crudités.

This week it was hard not to be taken by the radish row maintaining orderly conduct between rambunctious leaf lettuce and stiff lipped parsley. The beaming bundles all pluck in a gaggle radiated such a dose of good spirits, charm and springtime promise that I had to snatch one up. But I must admit in years past I have wondered about radish eaters and who exactly they are.

I used to see these roly-poly roots as necessary space filler, the pretty face of the veggie party platter still destined to roll around forlorn and unloved with the always boorish and unpopular cauliflower cluster. Radishes were born to become crude looking rose garnishes that decorate meatloaf logs and camouflage dreary uninspired entrées. They are all razzle-dazzle, rosy cheeked and voluptuous- but ultimately an unabashed tease. They never delivered. Looking at them gloriously flushed on the outside and crisp juicy white on the inside, I imagined the quenching crackle taste of a peppermint bon bon or at the very least a flavor both pleasingly mild and pleasant. On no account would I ever get bitten or have my tongue recoil back in shock. It is no wonder these feisty bulbs got parked and abandoned to dry up on serving platters across luncheon tables everywhere.

Somewhere in the 90’s I underwent a radish re-birth. I left the dark ages behind and shed light squarely upon the squat mini monster of parties past. On one fine day upon the bustling farm stand of the market, my eyes latched from afar onto pixels of vivacious cheer that bloomed into Easter egg colored orbs nuzzled against apple green finery. My eyes feasted upon a more demure and dainty vegetable version than my memory remembered. Piggly tails in tact and tops aflutter, these gentle creatures were clearly plucked early from their morning beds and I was willing chaperone to take them home.

Handsomely formed, it is nice to dip them whole in a little salt and if you must something creamy like a ranch dressing. Irrepressibly crunchy, juicy with a big amount of zip these bites are an addictive nibble which alternately lend themselves perfectly to a little ume vinegar mixed with a hint of sugar, fast pickles that speed blush to a fuchsia hue. While of course they really add a sparkle of color and texture to salad, I think of them as add ins to liven up just about everything from dips, soups, and burgers to omelets. In addition, the lovely greens should be immediately clipped and sautéed with garlic to put atop some toast. Just a warning the greens are a bit terse and need a bit of coaxing with enough oil and stock to soften them. Definitely kin to the root, these leaves have character and a bit of chew.

What I’ve neglected to explore however is the radish cooked, not counting the handful of times I’ve thrown them into miso soup after finding some aged in the crisper drawer. This week’s purchase asks to be re-examined yet again. The weather is still sallow and I’m not up for the nerve and bite of raw. My nightly meals are begging for a little color differentiation after too many days of tussled muddied leftovers. Cooked radishes offer a softer approach in pink. All glossy with butter and tender crisp in body, this vegetable is less moxie and more ingénue, somehow better suited for the delicate transition of spring pushing through winter. And while in general I abstain from pastels, flash sautéed these baby pink gems indeed remind me of delicate hyacinth, budding crocus, lop eared dwarf bunnies and the other marks of spring.

Sautéed Radishes in the French Style: adapted from The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper, serves 6

I rather liked this dish; in fact I was delighted by it. Visually it is stunning and practically begs for mint peas, asparagus or tender fiddleheads. Lynne suggests seafood, but I think this would be lovely with lamb. Also I would strongly support the use of Vermouth. I think it would bring out the delicate anise flavor of the tarragon.

2 Tblsp unsalted butter
2 bunches small radishes (she recommends trimming tips/greens)
Salt and fresh ground pepper
1/3 C white wine- she uses Vermouth
Pinch of sugar
2 Tblsp chopped fresh tarragon

Directions: Heat butter in a 12” skillet over medium high heat. I cleaned and halved my radishes lengthwise, discarding only the leaves that were slimy or yellow. I left my tails intact as well. Throw them into the pan and give a good sprinkle of salt and pepper. Sauté for about 3 minutes. Add the wine or Vermouth and sugar continuing to cook until the liquid has disappeared. Toss the radishes with the tarragon and a bit more butter if desired. Serve hot and b
e careful not to choke on the tails.


D-man said...

Well, this certainly sounds good, but my palatte is severely lacking in experience with the little bombs. Little shreds or disks in salad, sure. Whole, they really do just linger on the plate. I've made it a point to eat them when I am given them, but I tend to shy away from buying them. I bought a couple black spanish ones a few weeks back, but anyone I talked to gave me forboding news about how much they would heat my belly and take over whatever dish I was making. They ended up being composted. Pretty lame. With this as inspiration and outline, I'll give them another round. Maybe I'll start with the little ones. Or maybe go back to the spaniards and try this?

blatta said...

Radishes. In the brief gleam of a growing season in the Colorado rockies at 10,000', radishes were about the only thing that did well in the claptrap greenhouse boxes made from weathered siding stripped from 100 year old mining shacks and covered with visquene. Well, radishes and rhubarb. The rhubarb at least could be made friendly with copious sugar and a spot of pastry. The radishes however, after the seasonal 10 minutes of novelty waned for having obtained something, anything edible from our little constructs, were tougher to remain enthused about.

But we never thought to cook them...butter? tarragon? a splash of wine for the pan and another for me? Wow, I may have to try this.

HipWriterMama said...

This is a beautiful post, perfect to herald the blossoming spring. This radish recipe sounds delightful. I enjoy the peppery zing of this little buds...sliced into salads or pickled with a bit of vinegar, sugar and crushed red pepper.

Lydia said...

There are many foods I can only eat raw but not cooked -- carrots and strawberries are top of that list. And then there are the foods that I don't like to eat raw, but are a completely different product when cooked, and radishes are top of that list. In Oaxaca, Mexico, there is a great festival a few days before Christmas called Night of the Radishes. The entire town square is filled with radish sellers and sculptures made of radish. Quite the sight.

Freya and Paul said...

I adore radishes and the more peppery the better. My husband slices them wafer thin and has them on buttered bread. Seems Scandinavian somehow. I love the idea of actually cooking them too.

Callipygia said...

d-man: ooh the black spanish ones scare me too, I think they are supposed to be more pungent like horseradish. Start with the little ones.

blatta: I read that NASA was working on growing radishes in the Space Lab since they are nutritious and generally healthy- plus I guess astronauts would have no choice. Raw these are great sliced thin dressed with oil vinegar and blue cheese!

hipwritermama: hmmm crushed red pepper? what a great idea.

lydia: Did you get to see the festival? I saw pics on the web and thought it was spectacular. Awhile back I was researching rutabagas and saw that in denmark (I think) they intricately carve them and use them as lanterns for Xmas. These are so different cooked, they almost stump me.

freya: Yeah another raw radish eater- I like em on buttered bread too. Just beware that cooked they are so radically different, it is more like cooked daikon, and slightly sweet.

Gattina said...

Calli, beautiful! radiant!! Both your writing and illustration! No doubt I will come back to read your post again and again! Somehow I'm picturing pairing this cooked radish with something else... I know I'll make this dish soon!

Lis said...

Unfortunately I still live in the dark ages when it comes to radishes.. they are not a favorite. As a matter of fact, one of our favorite snacks is raw veggies and dip - he gets a big pile of radishes and I get the big pile of cauliflower hehe He can eat them any way, but prefers them straight out of the fridge (or ground in summer) with a sprinkling of salt.

Here's a funny story (this comment is going to be lonnnnggg)- while my mother was pregnant with my youngest sister, she craved nothing BUT radishes. She couldn't get enough of them the whole 9 months. Now, when my middle sister and I were born (uhh different times - but you knew that, eh?) we were both of slight weight - I was 6 lbs. some ounces and my sis was 7 lbs. some ounces - and we were both as bald as my grandfather.

Then 13 years later, my lil sis came along after being fed 9 mos worth of radishes.. She weighed 9 lbs. 8 oz. and her hair was soooo thick and LONG! To this day, my mom swears it was the radishes. hahahaha!


sher said...

Beautiful illustration! Radishes are one of my favorite vegetables. I grew up where a plate of radishes and sliced onions were always put on the table--even for breakfast! So, I ate a lot of them. Recently I discovered that they are not a wise food choice for people with a low thyroid--which I have. They interfere with the absorption of my medication. Phooey! However, it turns out that if you cook radishes (and other bad for thyroid veggies) they are OK to eat. Lovely recipe.

But, I do miss eating them raw!

Callipygia said...

gattina- this is definitely a starting point recipe, I also thought hmmm. how can this be tweaked?

lis- that is a great story and I believe it, those suckers are potent.

sher-how neat, for breakfast? A pity you can't eat them raw, cooked is so different, maybe they could be garnished with a few raw slices for oomph.

Nancy said...

Ed Brown tells a nice story in "Tomato Blessings and Radish Teachings" about eating radishes many of them with butter!

miragee said...

After looking at your pic, now I am not sure about my kind of radish and yours. I saw the red ones abroad, but never tried it. Here the radishes are big and white. Have you ever seen my mind?

Callipygia said...

nancyhoney! I think I need to kick back and read his book. They are good with butter and salt on bread.

miragee- There are many kinds of radishes and can be all colors and sizes. So I don't doubt that there are big white ones out there! Here in the states the smaller red ones are common.