Grown throughout the world, radishes come in a surprising number of shapes, sizes, and colors, from the large, white daikon to the ping-pong ball sized red globe radish. They range in flavor too, from slightly peppery to seriously pungent. What they have in common is a satisfyingly crunchy texture and an ability to add fresh flavor to all sorts of dishes. Though they are in season all year long, they are at their peak from spring to summer. Look for them at local farmer’s markets, where you are likely to find varieties like the whimsically named French breakfast radish, an elongated red-skinned radish with a white tip and a mild flavor, striking black radishes that pack a seriously spicy punch, and gorgeous pale green watermelon radishes that reveal a hot pink interior once sliced.
Radishes belong to the cruciferous family of vegetables, and like cousins broccoli and cabbage, offer up a wealth of nutrition. They are particularly high in Vitamin C and contain fiber, antioxidants and phytochemicals called indoles, which have a detoxifying effect on the body. What’s more: radishes have only 20 calories in an entire cup.
Choose radishes that are firm and free of cracks or brown spots. Before refrigerating them, snip off the greens and place the red bulbs in a plastic bag. If the greens are still crisp and not beginning to wilt, rinse them and refrigerate them separately. Plan on using the leaves within a day or so, as they won’t stay fresh for long. The radish bulbs can be stored up to two weeks.
What to do with radishes
Most often, radishes lend their peppery flavor to salad and slaws. But it’s a shame more people don’t know just how versatile these veggies can be. While delicious raw, they also stand up well to cooking and even pickling. Roasting them at high heat intensifies their sweetness, all but erasing their spicy flavor and making them taste more like mild turnips. For a colorful springtime side dish, roast halved radishes and asparagus at high heat until tender and caramelized. Or try sautéing them briefly in olive oil with minced shallot and snap peas. For an elegant appetizer, forget the crudités platter. Instead, plunge French breakfast or Easter egg radishes in ice water, halve lengthwise and serve with pots of softened butter and flaky sea salt for dipping. And don’t forget the greens: Use them as you would spinach—toss them into a salad, stir into a soup, or sauté them with other greens.
Recipes to try
Salads & Slaws:
Abigail Chipley is a freelance recipe developer, writer and cooking teacher who lives in Portland, Oregon.