It’s true. Radishes (Raphanus sativus) are sexy. Magnetically so. Mild, like the sound of romance languages spoken in their native tongue or the glow of fireflies on summer nights or the smell of musty libraries and hardcover books.
Sexy, unpretentious, and cool, radishes are the guy who plays The Ramones and writes poetry and gives you a ride to the party and later you say to him I can’t believe we’ve never hung out before! in your not-so-cool way. The irony is that you’ve known the vegetable for years.
We grew red radishes in our garden. I reluctantly ate my share of the raw roots tossed with lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, and carrots. Thin white moons haloed in red over a bed of iceberg lettuce. The sun glowered overhead. It was third grade. My friends and I ran five blocks to the nearest public pool. We floated for days in a blue green mix of chlorine and urine, jumping out long enough to buy a bag of chips and a pop from the snack bar. Then back in again to swim until our skin glowed red.
A relative of the mustard family, radishes come in more varieties then the familiar round bright red variety. A few varieties that I’ve sampled include the mild Easter Egg (round or oval radishes in white, purple, lavender, and red), White Icicle (long and thin), French Breakfast (elongated magenta to white like a bomb popsicle), and Daikon (ivory with a noted mustard-like pungency) radishes to the spicy-hot black radish (black skin and white flesh).
Then I read that about braising radishes. The thought of cooking the roots (or the greens for that matter) hadn’t occurred to me before. Every so often I eat them with a sprinkle of coarse salt, but mostly I stick to a salad regimen. That is until I slow cooked them much like turnips and rutabagas teasing out their subtle characteristics.
Subtle pepper sweetness comes from slowly cooking the root of a radish in butter, olive oil, and white wine. Finished with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, some salt, fresh ground pepper, and chopped fresh parsley leaves, radishes offer cool relief on a sweltering July evening.
Then again, if like today, the temperatures climb into the 100s and you have nothing more than a kiddy pool and a fan, you may want to try raw radish ginger butter sandwiches instead…
recipe adapted from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman
Yield 2 to 4 servings
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 pound radishes (trimmed, peeled, and cut into chunks)
1/2 cup or more white wine
2 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves (finely chopped, divided)
1 tablespoon fresh tarragon leaves (finely chopped, divided)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Combine the olive oil, butter, radishes, and wine in a saucepan, half the herbs, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and bring to a boil. Cover and adjust the heat so the mixture simmers; cook until the radishes are tender, 15 to 20 minutes, checking once or twice and adding extra wine as needed.
Uncover and raise the heat to boil off almost all the liquid, so that the vegetable becomes glazed in the combination of butter and pan juices; this will take 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from the heat; add the rest of the herbs and lemon juice. Taste and adjust the seasoning, if necessary.