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 be careful not to choke on the tails.