Radishes used to bug me. Why were these harsh bitter discs arbitrarily added to my salad? What was the point of carving them into “roses” that would only be left abandoned on the platter?
In the kitchen at a New York City restaurant, I was forced not just to make peace with the peppery root but to embrace it.
The farm-to-table movement had started, and the chef-owner had planted rows of radishes at his Hudson Valley getaway. Quick-growing and undemanding, radishes provide novice gardeners with relatively instant gratification. So, every Monday from late April to September he would dump extra-large garbage bags of dirty radishes on my work station.
“I grew these; I want to see them throughout the menu,” he said. “Of course, Chef,” was the only possible reply.
I resented them at first. I spent hours cleaning, trimming, and soaking each scarlet bulb so the bushy tops and roots were pristine. We served them French-style with a smear of soft whipped butter and coarse sea salt as our amuse bouche.
Guests loved their simple elegance, but those palate-awakening bites barely put a dent in our never-ending supply. We cooked them every way we could think of. One of the easiest was a revelation: when you glaze whole radishes with butter and a splash of water, their color pops to a jewel-like magenta. Cooked, their sweetness is turnip-like — though they’re prettier, no disrespect intended, than our local Eastham turnips.
Glazed radishes are what finally won me over. They’ve become part of my year-round repertoire. They look festive alongside a Christmas roast and in spring remind me of Easter eggs. Whenever I serve them, guests are converted into fans of the humble radish.
One reason they are so versatile is that both the top and root are edible. You can toss them whole into a pot of long-simmering Southern-style greens. Or garnish a taco with their tenderest leaves. Or quick pickle the bulbs in vinegar with a hint of sugar.
But because they can be potently peppery, I think radishes are especially good alongside something creamy or with a hint of sweetness. My favorite is a smear of lemony ricotta on nubbly pumpernickel with a scattering of radish planks. This, paired with a chilled rosé, is how I plan to mark reconnecting with friends and family in real life after a year of seeing them only as Zoom thumbnails.
One last thing: thick-sliced garden radishes with colorful baby potatoes and carrots tossed in an herby dressing makes an artful and delicious salad for all things grilled.
I’ll admit to feeling a childlike thrill as I watch breakfast radishes sprouting in my sandy Wellfleet soil. I promise not to drop off a garbage-bagful at your kitchen door — but with these three recipes, I’m out to prove how many things you can do with a good supply. I hope you’ll be converted.
2 medium bunches radishes
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
About ¾ cup water
Wash the radishes well, especially around the stems. Trim the stems, leaving about a half inch of the greens attached. Put the radishes and butter in a skillet, in a single layer, and season them well with salt and pepper. Add enough water to come about halfway up the side of the radishes.
Cut a circle of parchment or waxed paper the size of the skillet and lay it over the vegetables (or you can set a lid on the pan, slightly askew; the paper “lid” prevents all of the water boiling off). Bring to a gentle simmer over medium heat and cook until the radishes are tender, about 12 minutes. Remove the paper or lid, and boil liquid over high heat, until the radishes are lightly glazed, about 5 minutes more.
Radish and Ricotta Bites
1 cup whole milk ricotta
1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Flaky sea salt or kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Thin sliced dark pumpernickel bread
4 to 8 radishes
Radish sprouts, Italian parsley, dill, or mint leaves for garnish
Wash the radishes well and slice them thin or into matchsticks. Cut bread into two-inch squares. Zest and juice the lemon.
Stir together the ricotta with the finely grated zest and about half of the lemon’s juice. Add the olive oil and season the mixture with salt and pepper.
Smear about a tablespoon of the cheese on the bread. Top with radishes, and garnish with a drizzle of olive oil, radish sprouts or herbs, and more salt, if desired.
Spring Garden Potato Salad
1 lb. small mixed-color waxy potatoes
2 cloves garlic
1 bay leaf
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 medium carrot
1 bunch radishes
2 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 Persian cucumber
3 Tbsp. chopped mixed fresh herbs, such as flat-leaf parsley, dill, or tarragon
Wash the vegetables well. Cut the potatoes and the cucumber into ¼-inch-thick rounds. Peel the carrot and cut it into ¼-inch-thick rounds. Stem the radish and cut the bulb into ¼-inch-thick rounds. Slice the scallion thin, using both white and green parts. Smash the garlic. Chop the herbs.
Put the potato slices, garlic, and bay leaf in a saucepan with water to cover; add 2 tsp. salt. Bring to a boil, then add the carrots, lower the heat, and cook until the vegetables are tender but not mushy, about 3 minutes.
Stir in the radishes, then immediately drain the vegetables in a colander in the sink. Discard the garlic and bay leaf. Transfer to a bowl, cool slightly and toss the cooked vegetables with vinegar and olive oil. Set aside to cool.
About 10 minutes before serving, lightly toss the cucumber, scallions and herbs into the potato salad. Season with more salt and pepper to taste.