Why Radishes Are So Much More Than a Boring Salad Bar Topping
I didn't really think much about radishes until the perfect one showed up in front of me. Until that moment, radishes were an afterthought—a crisp, ice-pink, rough-cut orb on a salad bar. Not much taste, but a pleasant-enough texture. I'd heard people waxing wacky over the butter-coated radishes at NoMad in NYC and I thought yeah, yeah, maybe I'll order some while I'm scouring the menu for the real food. But these radishes derailed me.
More youthful than the dry, split-skinned specimens I was accustomed to, these were tender French globes with their tips intact, and they were enrobed in a thin skin of sweet butter. A small plume of leaves still attached at the top formed a delicate handhold for delicate nibbling and oh, what's that? A pinch of fleur de sel to throw the whole thing into sensory overdrive.
I've been radish mad from then on, but here's the hitch: Even the best markets max out at one or two varieties. Might as well plant your own, because it's so, so simple. Radishes are incredibly easy to start from seed, they grow like gangbusters, and—bonus—you can have your way with the greens, which make a pleasingly peppery addition to salads, a sassy pesto, or a fantastic side dish sauteed with your favorite allium and a little oil. And if you can't even wait that long, the sprouts themselves pop up quickly and announce themselves boldly in the presence of other raw vegetables and sandwich spreads.
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But if you can muster the patience, you'll be rewarded with a rainbow of options. French Breakfast radishes are my favorite in part for their gorgeousness—a searing pink fading abruptly into white—but mostly for their sense-shocking fire. They're lovely alone or with a cooling dip, or served alongside tacos, but do not deny yourself the perfect pleasure of enjoying them sliced on some thickly-buttered baguette with a sprinkle of sea salt.
Watermelon radishes earn their evocative name from their striking resemblance to the fruit when they're sliced open, and they bring a glorious blaze and sharp bite to salads, burgers, and sandwiches—not to mention a righteous quick pickle.
On the darker side of the spectrum, Spanish radishes sport a coal-dark exterior that gives way to moon-pale flesh inside.They look Goth as heck when they're roasted, and maintain some, but not all, of their spice. If you can get your paws on some Violet De Gournay, Purple Plum, or Pusa Jamuni, please do treat yourself. They are, as you may have intuited, gloriously purple (the last one all the way through) and a genuine joy to present to guests on a crudité tray or in a show-off salad.
And lest it seem like I'm giving short shrift to the humble Red or Scarlet Globe radish, I'm not. That staple of salad bars and relish trays works hard and is reliably delicious—it's just served carelessly a lot of the time. If you possibly can, maintain at least a little of the thoroughly edible tops so you can dip and bite.
When you're storing homegrown or store-bought radishes in the fridge, trim those tops, cover the bulbs loosely with a lightly dampened paper towel and place that all in an open plastic bag to keep everything from drying out. Once you have better radishes on hand, you'll find yourself deploying them every you have a chance. How very rad, indeed.