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Radishes

Why Eat It
Varieties
Availability
Shopping
Storage
Preparation
Nutrition Chart


Why Eat It

Radishes are root vegetables with a distinctive flavor that range from the juicy crispness of the familiar red globe radish to the sharp bite of the turnip-shaped black radish. Like their relatives broccoli, cabbage, and kale, radishes are cruciferous vegetables that offer cancer-protecting potential. They were first cultivated thousands of years ago in China, then in Egypt and Greece (where the vegetable was so highly regarded that gold replicas were made of it). Since then, many varieties have been developed in a number of shapes, sizes, and colors.

In the United States, radishes are usually eaten raw; however, they can be added to cooked dishes such as soups, or pickled, or heated and served as a whole vegetable. As with many other root vegetables, their green tops are edible and lend a peppery taste to salads. While radishes are not nutritionally outstanding, they are a good source of vitamin C. They make a perfect, very low calorie snack food.

Varieties

Growers classify radishes by shape--round, oval, oblong, and long are the most common. Markets frequently label them by color--red, white, and black ones are the most frequently available.

Black radishes: Turnip-like in size and shape (about 8" long), these have dull black or dark brown skin. When peeled, their flesh is white, quite pungent, and drier than other radishes. "Black Spanish" is the name for commercially grown black radishes, which are available in round and long varieties.

California Mammoth Whites: A larger variety than the white icicles, these radishes have oblong-shaped roots about 8" long; their flesh is slightly pungent.

Daikons: Native to Asia, these are very large carrot-shaped radishes (up to 18" long and weighing one to two pounds). Also called Japanese or oriental radishes, domestic daikons have a white flesh that is juicy and a bit hotter than that of red radishes but milder than that of black ones.

Red Globe: Americans are probably most familiar with these small round or oval-shaped "button" red radishes. They range from about 1" to 5" in diameter and have solid, crisp flesh.

White Icicles:Long (up to 6") and tapered, these have a white flesh that is milder than that of red radishes.

Availability

Red and white radishes are sold year-round; their supplies are most plentiful during the spring months. The biggest crops come from California and Florida, but most states grow them. Black radishes, which have a longer shelf life, are at their peak in winter and early spring. Daikons are most flavorful in fall and winter.

Shopping

Although red globe radishes can grow to 4" or 5" in diameter, the ones in the produce bin will probably be closer to the size of a ping-pong ball--about 1" to 1 1/2" in diameter. Much larger than that, red radishes are likely to be pithy.

Radishes with their leaves intact are usually tied in bunches, while topped radishes are sold in plastic bags. If the leaves are attached, they should be crisp and green. Look for well-shaped radishes with good color. Whether red or white, the roots should be hard and solid, with a smooth, unblemished surface. Check bagged radishes to make sure they are free of mold.

Black radishes (often sold in Russian or Polish neighborhoods) should be solid, heavy, and free of cracks. Daikons, found at Asian markets and many supermarkets, should be evenly shaped and firm, with a glossy, almost translucent sheen.

Storage

If you've bought radishes with their leaves attached, remove the tops unless you'll be serving them the same day (leaf-topped radishes are handsome on a crudite platter). Radishes will not keep as well with their tops left on. The leaves, if fresh and green, can be cooked like other greens or used in soups. Place radishes in plastic bags if they are not already packaged. Both red radishes and daikons will keep for up to two weeks in the refrigerator. Black radishes can be stored for months if they remain dry; store them in perforated plastic bags in the refrigerator.

Preparation

Scrub the radishes and trim off the stem end and tip. Since it is their skin that contains most of the enzymes that form the mustard oils responsible for their pungency, you may want to peel the radishes. However, red globe and white icicle radishes are rarely hot enough to warrant paring (and it's a shame to remove the globes' cherry red skin). Daikons have a very thin skin that can be removed with a vegetable peeler, if you wish. Black radishes should be well scrubbed; whether you peel them or not depends on the thickness of the skin. If it is thin, leave it on; the dark color provides a striking contrast with the white flesh.

Small radishes can be served whole, raw, or cooked; black radishes and daikons, which are larger and sharper, are usually cut up or grated.

Boiling: Cooked black radishes can be eaten like turnips. When serving them as dippers or in salads, boil them until barely tender. The heat will tame their rather harsh flavor. Wash and trim them before; peel if desired (or peel off thin strips of the skin to make a striking black-and-white pattern). For red globes, boil 1/2" of water, then add the sliced radishes, cover and simmer until tender, adding more water if neccessary. Cooking times: for black radishes, 15 to 30 minutes; for red globes, five to 10 minutes.

Microwaving: Place 1/2 pound of sliced radishes in a microwaveable dish with 1 tablespoon of water or broth. Cover and cook until tender. Cooking time: four minutes.

Steaming: People who find raw radishes too sharp may enjoy the milder taste of steamed radishes, served as an edible garnish or a vegetable side dish. The flesh of steamed red radishes will turn pink. Place whole radishes in a vegetable steamer and cook over boiling water until barely tender. Shredded daikon can also be steamed, alone or with shredded carrots, then dressed with a vinaigrette. Cooking times: for whole radishes in a steamer, eight to 12 minutes; for shredded daikon, five minutes.

Stir-frying: Sliced radishes or thin strips of daikon combine well with other vegetables and meat in stir-fries. Be careful not to overcook the radishes so that they retain most of their crispness. Cooking time: three to five minutes.

Nutrition Chart

Radishes/1/2 cup sliced

12
Total fat (g)
0.3
Saturated fat (g)
0
Monounsaturated fat (g)
0
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0
Dietary fiber (g)
0.9
0
Carbohydrate (g)
2
Cholesterol (mg)
0
Sodium (mg)
14
Vitamin C (mg)
13


Date Published: 04/21/2005
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