Have you ever really thought about a radish? Until recently, I hadn't.
When I saw a radish, my thoughts tended to go onto autopilot. I mean, yes, of course, I use them in salads. Don't we all? And they certainly are a common element of restaurant salads and plate garnishes. They have been for as long as I can remember.
I've also used daikon radishes in many ways in my cooking. (Daikon is the huge, white, carrot-shaped radish originally introduced from East Asia.) However, daikon is so different in both appearance and flavor than the small round radish varieties that I tend to think of it completely differently - almost as a separate kind of vegetable.
As Chef Emeril Lagasse said, "People think, 'Oh it's just a radish.' But radishes are delicious, and people don't think of cooking them."
I decided it was high time to stop taking the humble radish for granted and give it a closer look. What I found has given me a whole new respect for this ubiquitous food.
I always begin studying an ingredient by looking at its nutritional contributions. (If it doesn't provide significant nutrition, why bother going further?) Nutritionally, radishes really shine when it comes to dietary fiber, Vitamin C, folate and potassium. This was particularly interesting to me, since my own eating often comes up short on folate and potassium.
Radishes are also considered a good food for weight control. Their high fiber helps you feel full while their low calorie content is easy on your waistline.
Gardeners are fond of radishes for several reasons. First of all, radish seeds sprout very quickly. If you mix a few radish seeds with slower sprouting seeds, such as carrots or spinach, for example, in just a few days the radishes sprouts will show you exactly where you planted the row so you can weed and water appropriately until the other vegetable shows itself.
Secondly, radishes mature very quickly. As living row markers, they can be harvested well before interfering with the growth of the rest of the row crop. Some radishes can be picked as early as three weeks after planting.
Finally, because of their rapid maturation and an affinity for cool weather, radishes are one of the earliest spring garden vegetables ready to eat. Their bright skin colors, ranging from brilliant red, purple and pink, to pure white, make spring salads sparkle. Their sharp, slightly hot taste also provides some spring warmth to a mixture of raw vegetables.
Because radishes are easy to grow, they make an excellent choice for kids trying their hand at planting seeds for the first time. Eager little gardeners don't have long to wait to see - and eat - the results. As an added perk, studies have shown that kids who help grow their own food tend to develop healthier eating habits.
If you grow radishes, they should be harvested as soon as they are ripe. Remove the leaves and store them separately. Both leaves and roots need refrigeration. The long, thumb-size radish variety, often called French breakfast radishes, have a milder flavor. You can see the most popular radish varieties by wandering around a farmers market. The round ones may be smaller than a golf ball or as large as a beet.
In the kitchen, radishes are more versatile than you might expect. In addition to using them on green salads, grated raw radish can be used instead of cabbage as the basis for a unique coleslaw. Raw radish combines well with the flavor of yogurt, as in the recipe below. It also offers a spicy flavor complement when combined with the sweetness of grated raw beets or carrots.
Besides being delicious raw, roasting is a common way to cook radishes. Remove the root tips and stalks, and mix in a little hazelnut oil along with some fresh garlic, rosemary and a little salt. Cook in an over at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes or so, depending on the size of the radishes. Roasted radishes should be lightly browned.
Add radishes to soups and stir fries, and don't forget to use the leaves as well. Radish leaves can be used much like any other bitter greens (spinach, kale, chard, etc.), though I personally prefer them combined with other greens rather than served by themselves.
Today's recipe can be served in many different ways. Use it as a dip for other raw veggies, apple slices or crackers. Use it as a salad dressing for green salads. Use it as a spread for crostini or sandwiches. Use it as a topping for scrambled eggs or baked potatoes. Use it as a sauce for lamb or beef. The possibilities are endless.
Locavore class: I've been invited to teach a class called "Locavore 101" for the Community Food Co-op on Sept. 19 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. as part of their Eat Local Day celebration in partnership with Sustainable Connections. In the class, we'll talk about what it means to be a locavore, why you might want to consider it, simple ways to get started, and some basic resources to help along the way. Watch this column and the co-op newsletters for more information as class time approaches. Hope to see you there!
RADISH AND MINT YOGURT DIP
2 cups grated radishes (Full Bloom Farm, Lummi Island)
2/3 cup yogurt (Grace Harbor Farms, Custer)
1 tablespoon finely minced fresh mint leaves (home garden, Lummi Island)
Pinch of salt
Place all ingredients into a mixing bowl and stir to combine well. Adjust quantities to taste.
Makes about 21/2 cups.
You'll find Whatcom County foods at these stores and farms. Many outlets have seasonal hours. We recommend you call or check websites for current hours.
Acme Farms + Kitchen, 1313 N State Street, Bellingham
Appel Farms Cheese Shoppe, 6605 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-384-4996
Artisan Wine Gallery, 2072 Granger Way, Lummi Island; 360-758-2959
BelleWood Acres, 6140 Guide Meridian, Lynden; 360-318-7720
Bellingham Country Gardens (u-pick vegetables), 2838 East Kelly Road, Bellingham
Bellingham Farmers Market, Railroad at Chestnut; 360-647-2060
Boxx Berry Farm Store and u-pick, 6211 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-380-2699
Cloud Mountain Farm Nursery, 6906 Goodwin Road, Everson; 360-966-5859
Community Food Cooperative, 1220 N. Forest St. and 315 Westerly Road, Bellingham; 360-734-8158
Five Loaves Farm, 514 Liberty St., Lynden
Ferndale Public Market, Centennial Riverwalk, Ferndale; 360-410-7747
Grace Harbor Farms, 2347 Birch Bay Lynden Road, Custer; 360-366-4151
The Green Barn, 211 Birch Bay-Lynden Road, Lynden; 360-318-8869
Hopewell Farm, 3072 Massey Road, Everson; 360-927-8433
The Islander, 2106 S. Nugent Road, Lummi Island; 360-758-2190
Joe's Garden, 3110 Taylor Avenue, Bellingham, 360-671-7639
Lynden Farmers Market, Fourth and Front streets, Lynden
The Markets LLC, 1030 Lakeway, Bellingham; 8135 Birch Bay Square St., Blaine; 360-714-9797
Pleasant Valley Dairy, 6804 Kickerville Road, Ferndale; 360-366-5398
Small's Gardens, 6451 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-384-4637
Terra Organica, 1530 Cornwall Ave., Bellingham; 360-715-8020
Reach Whatcom Locavore columnist Nancy Ging at 360-758-2529 or email@example.com. To follow her day- to-day locavore activities, go to Whatcom Locavore on Facebook or @whatcomlocavore on Twitter. For locavore menus, recipes and more resources, go to whatcomlocavore.com.