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Winter radishes at the winter market

Winter radishes can spice up your winter dishes. (Photo provided — Yvona Fast)

There are three kinds of radishes at our winter farmers’ market at the Hotel Saranac: watermelon, Daikon and black.

Winter radishes are much larger in size than their cousins that herald spring. These root crops are harvested in late fall and can be stored through the winter.

Juniper Hill’s Eli explains that black radishes are quite spicy — although peeling the black skin removes some of the peppery heat. Milder daikons are good for brining, marinating and for stir fries. The best for eating raw are the watermelons; they’re great sliced into salads, used as garnishes or served on tartines and sandwiches.

The black radish (Raphanus sativus niger) can be cylindrical or round. When you cut off the root and stem and peel the tough black skin, you’ll find a crisp, white, juicy center which is great sauted and can also be eaten raw –though it’s quite pungent. First cultivated in the Mediterranean basin, black radishes were common in Chinese and European folk medicine.

In Japanese, daikon means large root. This radish resembles a long white carrot about a foot or less in length. However, daikons have been known to grow more than 3 feet in length and 1 foot across, weighing up to 100 pounds!

The daikon radish adds spice to almost every Japanese meal — cooked, raw in salads, pickled or dried. Finely grated raw daikon is often sprinkled with soy sauce and spooned as a garnish over fish, meat or fried foods. That mound of juicy white stuff served with sushi or tempura? It’s grated daikon. It is also important in the cuisines of Korea, China, Vietnam and India. Asian cooks use the entire plant — the leaves as well as the root.

Crisp and juicy, sweet, sharp and slightly spicy, daikon is a bit sweeter than the European red radishes. The flavor is somewhere between that of a radish and a cabbage. It is versatile, and is great in stir fries and other cooked dishes as well as in slaws and salads.

The thicker area near the top is sweeter, and thus best for grating into salads or slicing and serving with dip. The bottom near the root tends to be sharper and more pungent, so it is usually cooked or pickled. Cooking mellows and sweetens the taste, and the flesh becomes translucent. It is often used in stir fries and winter stews.

The watermelon radish is my favorite winter radish. These softball or golf ball shaped radishes are a bit drab on the outside –but slice through it and you know right away where these colorful radishes got their name. The bright pink center is surrounded by a light green border. The flavor is mild; they’re not as sharp as some radishes, tasting slightly sweet with a hint of pepper. They lose their sharp peppery flavor as they mature, so larger radishes are usually sweeter.

I love this radish raw, in spinach, pasta and potato salads. But you can cook with it too; like the daikon, it can be added to stir fries towards the end of cooking, braised or roasted. They can be brine fermented or vinegar pickled.

All radishes are crucifers / brassicas, so they help protect us from cancer. They’re great for dieters because they’re low in calories, high in fiber and an excellent source of vitamin C. They’re also rich in minerals like sulfur, iron and iodine.

Here are a couple recipes to get you started with these delicious radishes.

Spinach and Watermelon Radish Salad

Ingredients:

10 oz. spinach

1 or 2 watermelon radishes (depending on size) — also use the top of daikon or black radishes for a spicier kick

1/2 sweet onion (about 1 cup, sliced thin)

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 to 3 Tablespoons plain kefir or plain yogurt

1 Tablespoon crumbled blue cheese or feta cheese

Optional: 1 or 2 hardboiled eggs, or 1 cup cooked, shredded chicken or turkey

Directions:

Wash spinach; set aside to drain.

Scrub radishes and slice thin. For large radishes, you may need to cut them in half or quarters first.

Peel onion and slice thin.

Combine spinach, radishes and onions in large salad bowl. Sprinkle with salt and toss. Then fold in the kefir or yogurt. Garnish with blue cheese or feta.

For a main dish salad, add chopped hard cooked eggs or cooked, shredded chicken or turkey meat.

Serves 2 to 4 depending on size of servings. (I could probably eat the whole thing). For a main dish, serve with crusty fresh baguette and goat cheese or butter.

Asian Radish Stir-Fry

Ingredients:

1 Tablespoon cooking oil

1/2 pound boneless chicken, sliced thin

2 cups radishes, sliced julienne (I used daikon but you can use any or all of the three)

1/2 cup thinly sliced carrot

1/2 cup sliced mushrooms

1 cup minced onion (about 1 large)

1 cup chopped greens (kale, spinach or cabbage all work well)

1 clove garlic, minced

2 Tablespoons soy sauce

Directions:

Heat oil. Add chicken and stir fry 2-3 minutes on medium-high heat. Add radish, and stir fry 3-4 minutes. Add carrot, and stir fry 2-3 minutes more. Add mushrooms and onion and cook about 5 minutes. Add greens and garlic, sprinkle with soy sauce, lower heat, cover, and cook until vegetables are tender and meat is cooked through. (Spinach only needs to cook a couple minutes; kale and cabbage need a little more time). Serve over grain such as millet or rice. Serves 2-3.

Author of the award-winning cookbook “Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers’ Market,” Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be reached at yvonawrites@yahoo.com or on Facebook at Words are My World.

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