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Shake, Radish and Roll
By Pat Eby | Photo by Carmen Troesser
Posted On: 05/01/2010   


Radishes – round, long, pointed, skinny or plumply ovoid – what a controversial vegetable they’ve proven to be. Turns out, they’re almost as universally ignored or disliked as turnips. Imagine that. So many people told me they don’t eat radishes, I began to fret: Would folks read this column?

First, a disclaimer. I like radishes of all shapes, colors and flavor intensities. My German grandfather made radish sandwiches each spring: stolid dark pumpernickel slathered with sweet cream butter, layered with snips of chives and topped with a thick layer of red, round radishes sliced paper-thin. Grandfather would salt them lightly, pour us grandchildren a cup of buttermilk, open a beer for himself, and we would lunch. Heaven.

The radishes available at markets today go far beyond the emblematic scarlet globe radishes of my youth. Colors have gone crazy – white, tan, brown, salmon, reds, pinks and even blazing purple. Flavors range from ho-hum mild to whoa-ho hot. And recipes? Radishes are more versatile than you’d imagine, going well beyond salads, snacking and sandwiches.

You’ll find top local chefs incorporating radishes in soups, roasted radishes on crostini as appetizers and sautéed in butter as a side to beefy steaks. I discovered roasting and sautéeing moderated the flavor to mild, even in a hot radish. The texture is nice, too: softened just a little, the hard edge smoothed – very pleasant.

Radishes eaten on thin slices of toasted baguette with butter and sea salt are a notable spring treat on French tables. My stalwart friends tried a variation I made using avocado sliced and spritzed with lime, sliced radishes and sea salt. Delicious.

When I paired the zesty hot radishes with other strong tastes, I liked how they complemented each other. Goat cheese mixed with chopped radishes, scallions and chopped blanched almonds baked in a phyllo crust, for example. Radishes chopped into a salsa with apricots and mangos complemented a spicy shrimp sauté. Strong with strong works well.

Cool with hot worked, too. Pair cucumbers with radishes in a raita, for example. Or combine chopped radishes, red onions and sweet orange sections to top a salad of microgreens. Dress with a citrus vinaigrette.

When you shop markets this spring, pick up multiple bunches. Try D’Avignon – a cylindrical, red-and-white, very mild breakfast radish – from Biver Farms or Deep Mud Farm. You’ll find Cherry Belles and White Icicle radishes at Deep Mud as well.

Watch the Three Rivers Community Farm stand for the delightful multicolored Easter Egg globe radishes and for purple Amethyst, and look for Earthdance Farm to offer the Cincinnati Market variety, delicious and gorgeous.

You’ll find the red-and-white Sparkler, Champion Red and White Icicle radish at Kruse Farm’s stand at Soulard Farmers’ Market. “Our German customers – the men – like the Icicle radishes with salt in their beer,” Arlene Kruse said.

Kruse likes to revive after a long workday on the farm with a spring tonic sandwich she concocts using herbs from the greenhouse, spring onions, arugula and chopped radishes mixed with dressing made from olive oil, a pinch of hot pepper and Parmesan cheese. “Find the earthiest, coarsest whole wheat bread you can,” she said, “spread the mixture on a slice, fold in half and eat – it’s my secret tonic. Perks me right up.”

In the fall, Kruse will offer daikon, black radishes and a wonderful Watermelon radish, which has a red center surrounded by white and green rings. It makes a great conversation starter at a party: What is that? Chopped in half and sliced, they look like mini watermelon slices, but taste zingy. No dip needed, but try blue cheese if you must dunk.

If you think you don’t like radishes, try fresh and local. For fans, the radish rules this spring. Get cooking, roasting, chopping and blending flavors – and pop open a beer and grab an Icicle radish with salt while you’re working.

Pan Sautéed Radishes
Makes 6

INGREDIENTS

2 bunches small radishes (about 16)
4 Tbsp. sweet cream butter, divided
Sea salt and pepper to taste
¼ cup dry white wine or chicken stock
Flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
Fresh chives, snipped

PREPARATION

• Remove the leaves, trim the stem end and snip the roots off the radishes. Wash, then pat them dry.
• Depending on how you want to use the radishes, slice, coarsely chop or quarter the radishes lengthwise. (For a side dish, slice them. For topping crostini, chop or quarter them.)
• In an 8-inch nonstick skillet, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat, taking care not to brown it. Add the prepared radishes, season with salt and pepper to taste and cook over medium-low heat until the radishes start to soften just a bit: 2 minutes for coarsely chopped, 3 minutes for sliced or quartered.
• Add the white wine or the chicken stock and raise the heat to medium-high. Stir until most of the wine evaporates, but not longer than 3 minutes. Remove from the heat.
• Add the remaining butter, fresh-chopped parsley and snipped chives.
• Serve as a side dish, or with crostini and goat cheese as a starter.

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