All about the versatile tuber vegetable that packs a punch
If you like your salad with a bit of kick, I recommend giving radish leaves a try. They're great in salads, but also in soups.
Fergus Henderson is the father of the “Nose to Tail” movement. The top chef from London champions the use of the whole animal, not just the prime cuts. I was inspired by “Nose to Tail” when I chose the name “Leaf to Root” for my campaign for the parts of vegetables that are often shunned.
A recipe in Fergus’ book, “Radish from leaf to root”, illustrates how intimately entwined the two subjects are. It was one of the first I had ever discovered on my pet subject. In it, the chef demonstrates the best way to eat radishes: combine the tuber with some butter and salt, place the leaves in a bowl and stir in vinegar and oil to make a salad. “Delicious”, Fergus said to me, when I cooked the dish with him a few years ago.
In Asian countries, radish leaves are a staple food. In Nepal, for example, they are fermented to make Gundruk, one of the national dishes. And recently a greengrocer told me that he often has Japanese customers at the market who are particularly concerned that their radishes should have nice leaves.
To this day, I think radish leaves are the tastiest part of the vegetable. After all, everyone is familiar with radishes – yet almost everyone throws the leaf away. In fact, the leaf has a wonderful, fresh and peppery kick to it. But doesn't it have spiky little hairs too? Yes, it does. However, when the leaves are marinated in a salad dressing, the hairs lose their prickliness. The same when you cook the leaves.
As soon as the leaves are marinated in a salad dressing, the hairs lose their prickliness.
A tip on cooking: not many people know that, as well as being eaten raw, radishes can also be lightly sautéed. Cooked radish tastes great. As do the leaves, The tuber makes a great soup, to which you can add a dash of pesto made from the leaves. ProSpecieRara, the organization that seeks to preserve traditional species (see below) sometimes tests radishes for their cooking properties. “We keep having eureka moments”, explains vegetable expert Philipp Holzherr. He recommends being a bit adventurous in the home kitchen.
You can also experiment on the balcony and in the garden with growing radishes. If left to bloom and mature, pods will form which, although they taste like radish, look rather like small peas. Pickle the pods and serve them to your guests, they’ll be delighted when they realise that appearances can be deceptive.
ProSpecieRara is trying to preserve the diversity of radishes. Although on first sight, the differences often appear minimal, says Holzherr. Some radishes do look completely different to the common varieties, such as the “Yellow” listed in the ProSpeciaRara encyclopaedia. Explaining why the “Yellow” isn't sold, Holzherr says: “Customers are accustomed to the red colour, plus the yellow radishes are more of an ochre colour, so they aren't as attractive.” He believes purple or pink radishes offer greater potential.
An attempt was made a while ago to sell icicle radishes. These are long, white, mini-radishes. Unfortunately, however, the crops often fell victim to black root disease. “So we had to stop selling them”, says Holzherr. The “National 2” variety, the seeds of which ProSpeciaRara is propagating, can be found on shelves: this belongs to a variety of round, white-red radishes that was first documented over 100 years ago.
Customers are accustomed to the red colour.
By preserving diversity, ProSpecieRara is also creating a treasure trove of information for vegetable growers, who can take advantage of its knowledge and of the database of different varieties. In contemporary cultivation, for instance, attempts are being made to achieve resistance against diseases such as downy mildew. It is also desirable for radishes not to split and to have a perfect, round shape; needless to say, it is in the interests of growers and of ProSpecieRara for the vegetable to be commercially viable and to look appealing on the consumer's plate.
More columns by Esther Kern
Recipes with radishes
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