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April/May 2014

Getting to Know: Radishes

There’s a whole world of radishes beyond the tipped-and-tailed kind that are sold in plastic bags at the supermarket.

Cherry Belle Radish

The Cherry Belle is the radish you usually see at the supermarket. It’s harvested in both spring and fall so it can be sold year-round, and its relatively sweet flavor and mild spiciness make it a go-to radish for all kinds of dishes—not just salads. This usually crisp radish softens and transforms in our Butter-Braised Vegetables recipe (see related content). With these and other thin-skinned spring radishes, good things come in small packages: Large specimens may be tough, woody, and hollow.

Black Spanish Radish

This large, black-skinned radish—inside it’s white—looks a lot like a turnip; turnips and radishes are both in the Cruciferae, or mustard, family. Like other winter radishes, it’s pungent and dry and has thicker skin than many more familiar radishes. It’s a stalwart of Eastern European cooking—probably because it lasts for months in storage, especially in cold climates. Russians, for example, like to slather a mix of grated black radishes and sour cream on dark bread.

Easter Egg Radish

Because they are harvested in the spring, Easter Egg radishes are small—about an inch around. The name, from their pretty pastel colors, encompasses a grouping of similarly sized and flavored radishes, including Ruby, Plum Purple, and Snow Belle. All are mild and crunchy, with bright white flesh and subtle heat that builds as you eat them. If they start to soften, revive them (and all radishes) in a bowl of ice water for about an hour; this trick works with both whole and cut radishes.

White Icicle Radish

Featured as a “new” radish in a 1903 seed catalog, this heirloom radish is still in demand today. The name implies chill, but take a bite and watch out: The Icicle radish has a peppery flavor, sinus-clearing quality, and “slow-burning heat,” our tasters said. You can eat the greens of the Icicle radish—or any radish, for that matter—raw in salad or sautéed briefly. Refrigerate the greens separately; otherwise, the leaves will pull moisture from the radishes.

French Breakfast Radish

With its tapered, rosy-colored root and telltale white tip, the French Breakfast radish is easy to recognize. It’s harvested primarily in the spring, when you’ll find it at your local farmers’ market. The French eat these radishes split and buttered—to balance the radishes’ heat—with sea salt and bread, and we like their crunch in our Arugula, Radish, Mint, and Pea Salad (see related content).

Daikon

The name of this big Asian radish—it can grow close to 2 feet long—means “large root” in Japanese. The taste is more sweet than spicy but the finish is peppery. Its juicy texture draws comparisons with water chestnuts and jícama. Daikon is the soft white pile of shredded stuff next to the wasabi on your sushi plate, and it’s the bright yellow pickled slice that often accompanies Japanese or Korean food.

Watermelon Radish

Cut into the thick, light-green skin of a Watermelon radish and you’ll find a shocking fuchsia center—it’s obvious where this (Eastern) radish got its (Western) name. Cut, these radishes look fabulous on a plate, which is probably why they are popular with chefs. The color fades when the radish is cooked, so we like it raw in salads or as crudités; it tastes sweet and mildly spicy. “This radish tastes like a carrot,” one taster commented, “but it looks magical.”

Snowball Radish

Despite the name, the Snowball is actually a spring radish. Its round root (all radishes are root vegetables) ranges in size from 1 to 3 inches. As with all radishes, look for firm roots with smooth skins—wrinkles and cracks are signs of age. This radish has a peppery heat, similar to that of spicy mustard: One of our tasters warned, “You think you’re safe and then it hits you with a kicky bite.”

Lime Radish

Slice into it and this Lime radish looks like a lime (some are greener than others). But that’s where the similarity ends. Tasters compared its intense kick with that of wasabi or horseradish (mustard oils give radishes, horseradish, and wasabi heat). Dubbed a “silent killer” by one taster, Lime radish makes a mean kimchi or slaw to go with fatty meats. Store this radish, and most other varieties, in unsealed plastic bags in the refrigerator; they’ll keep for about a week.