Radishes are the vegetables that spring-starved fanatics get out and plant because they’re early and quick-you might have the first ones to eat as soon as 3 weeks after planting.
Or you can plant them with parsnips or parsley; the robust radish sprouts help those frailer creatures break through the soil’s crust. All parts of the radish are edible (but the leaves aren’t usually eaten), and there’s much you can do with them
One almost rootless variety is grown for its green top, which is used in salad, and one is grown for its seed pods! Every major Asian country developed its own favorite radish variety centuries ago, and Asians include radishes in their daily diet much more than we do. Available from Bountiful Gardens, Cook’s Garden, Kitazawa (winters!), Nichols, Park, Shumway, and Territorial.
Red Radishes. The short “cherry” radish is the most familiar one in the United States: red skin, white flesh, green leaves, cherry-sized, quite hot. These are fast and easy, best for container growing. Use sliced (not peeled) in salads or as raw, edible garnishes.
You can also boil them or add them to soup, as you would carrots. There are also long, red varieties. Use them raw like the small ones, or roast with meat, as you would turnips, or chop and saute them together with other vegetables.
White or “Winter” Radishes. These close relatives of thereds are generally larger, milder in flavor, harder to grow, and longer to mature. They also stay crisp longer-several weeks instead of several days. Icicle, a 4-inch white, is the quickest-to-mature long white; it straddles the categories of red and white.
The other whites are the true “winter radishes,” so called because they are often planted in midor late summer, harvested in fall, and stored during winter in damp sand. Winter radishes taste better cooked than the summer ones do. One of the best winter radishes is daikon.
But writer Lane Morgan and some other folks say that daikon has a problem in the United States because it’s so attractive to the cabbage-root-maggot butterfly. Plant in late summer (1 inch deep). They take a long time. Seeds are available from Cook’s Garden, Johnny’s, and Kitazawa.
Harvest, store, and cook like any root vegetable. Daikon contains diastase, a starch-digesting enzyme, so it goes well with a heavy-starch meal. Daikon leaves can be substituted in any cooked greens recipe. In Japanese edible art, daikon is carved into shapes such as a rectangular fishnet made of one continuous peeling of the daikon that is then laid over seafood dishes.
The Japanese serve grated or slivered daikon with raw fish on rice (sushi) and with rice in general. Daikon can also be slivered and made into Instant Pickles. Or substitute in regular pickle recipes. Or use raw slices in green salad, stirfry, or cook in soup.
Sakurajima. It takes 70 days to mature and needs as much room to grow as does a tomato plant. I’ve heard that a single specimen can get to 10, 20, or even 50 lb. in size. This variety is not eaten raw because it is extremely hot. Cook it turnip-style. Plant seeds 2 feet apart.
Lobak. This is a Korean radish, spicy rather than mild. It’s white, with some pale green shading at base. It’s as wide as a potato and is 6-8 inches long. You can cut into strips and serve with a dip, or use in the famous Korean relish called kim chee.
It’s good chopped into an omelet, sauteed as a side dish with carrots and onions, sliced in an avocado salad, or cooked in a soup.
Rat-Tail Radish. This “podding radish” is raised in order to harvest the long (9 inches or more!) seed pods, which develop late in the season. This is a very uncommon but fascinating- looking variety of radish. The seed pods are long and beanlike, but they are wide at one end and dwindle to a tip at the other. Rat-tail radishes are grown just like other radishes. Harvest after only a few weeks, while still tender.
Use like edible-podded peas, or stir-fry or pickle them. The taste is moderately hot, like other radishes.