Radish rehab: Don’t just pick them out of your salad — cook them

Steve Peters / Photo

Steve Peters

The older I get, the more I find myself appreciating foods I once detested. Most recently, it was radishes. I once considered radishes a bitter and boring nuisance; an unwelcome addition to salads that I’d either pick out or leave to drown in the pool of salad dressing that accumulated at the bottom of my bowl.

It turns out that radishes can do more than just ruin a salad. At times they can even improve a salad. As with anything else, it’s a matter of learning how to make them shine.

I first started thinking differently about radishes a couple of years ago when I roasted them for the first time. That’s right, I cooked radishes. It was a concept that had never crossed my mind until then. I had thought they were just used raw for garnishing. But cooking, especially roasting, brought out a hint of sweetness and depth I always thought radishes were lacking. I was intrigued.

Then I grew radishes in my garden. The difference between fresh radishes and the limp, flavorless ones in grocery stores is crazy. They’re definitely the kind of vegetable that is best eaten as soon as possible after picking. You never know how fresh anything is in the grocery store, no matter what they try to convince you. When I worked in the produce department of a store back in Connecticut, we’d take a variety of tactics to revive old produce and trim or repack foods to keep them looking good for longer. Trust me, I’m not proud.

So if you can, grow your own. Just get a pack of seeds and plant some in a small patch of dirt, or even a medium-sized pot or planter. They don’t take up much room, aren’t very needy, and the common variety takes only about a month until they’re ready to eat. Keep them well watered and thin them as they grow. If you already have a garden, there’s no reason not to grow them. Even if you can’t be convinced to eat them, radishes are said to help improve the nutrients in the soil as they grow.

If you can’t be bothered to grow radishes, check the farmers market. They’re a cool-weather vegetable, and now is the time to find them, before it gets too hot to grow them again until the fall. You’ll also find several kinds of radishes when fall approaches, such as the surprisingly vibrant watermelon, the large daikon, and the mysterious black radish.

However you acquire your radishes, you want to keep them crisp. No one likes a soft radish. Trim off the roots and greens before storing. The greens, if young, can be added into salads, while older, larger greens can be sautéed in oil with garlic. You can put the radishes themselves in a jar of water in the fridge. The water will keep them from drying out. Or you can place the radishes in a plastic bag lined with moist paper towels. But like I said, the sooner you can eat them the better.

While I may be coming around to the idea of radishes, you still won’t find me snacking on them right out of the garden any time soon. Cooking radishes doesn’t take long no matter what method you use. Grilling, braising, roasting and sautéing can all work.

To roast, halve the radishes depending on their size, toss with a little oil and salt, and roast at 450 degrees for about 15-20 minutes. To grill, it’s the same thing, but depending on how hot your grill gets — mine always gets hotter than necessary — it may take only 10 minutes. Use a grill basket to keep the radishes contained, and shake them around every few minutes. When sautéing, I like to slice them rather thin and cook in butter over medium heat for just about three minutes, or until they start to turn golden.

One of the best friends of the radish is butter. I’ve read that people even eat them raw with cold butter. Weird. But I get it. Butter helps mellow the often strong bite that radishes can possess. I’d just rather cook them with butter, as the process of cooking also helps tame the flavor.

Once you’ve cooked radishes, how do you make them more than just a snack? They’re not big enough to serve as a side dish on their own. Raw radishes are fine in salads, pickled or chopped and thrown into tacos. While cooked ones can be incorporated into other dishes, such as rice, added into omelets, paired with other root vegetables and added to soups.

In this simple side dish, I mixed sautéed radishes into wild rice with herbs, feta and almonds. I used enough to make them a prominent component of the dish and not an annoying addition I’d try to pick out.

Wild rice with sautéed radishes

1 ½ cups wild rice

A small bunch of radishes, about 6

2 tablespoons butter

kosher salt

¼ cup almonds

2 ounces feta cheese

1 teaspoon white wine vinegar

2 tablespoons chopped chives

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

In a medium-sized pot, combine the rice with 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then lower the heat and allow the water to gently simmer. Cover and cook for about 45 minutes or longer, until the rice is tender.

When the rice is nearly done, thinly slice the radishes. Melt the butter in a small pan then add the radishes along with a 1/8 teaspoon of kosher salt. Sauté over medium-high heat for about three minutes or until the radishes just start to turn golden. Turn off the heat and keep the radishes in the melted butter, as you’ll want to mix both into the rice.

Roughly chop the almonds and feta. Combine the cooked rice with the sautéed and buttered radishes, almonds, feta, vinegar and herbs. Toss to combine and serve warm, seasoned with additional salt and some freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Steve Peters

Steve Peters is a cook, gardener and baker living in Rutland.

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