Radishes are nature’s antidote to winter’s hearty comfort foods — those rich soups and hefty stews. Beauty Heart, black Spanish and daikon, known as winter varieties, are refreshingly crunchy, peppery and light. Harvested in the late fall after the frost, these big, sturdy radishes stay crisp and juicy when properly stored all through the long cold season.
Radishes are members of the mustard and cabbage family (along with horseradish), and are among the oldest cultivated plants, dating back to 2000 B.C. Take the Beauty Heart. It looks like a round, pale greenish turnip; slice it in half and you’ll find a surprising bright magenta center. Sometimes called watermelon radish, it was also known as Red Meat radish until a marketing-savvy Wisconsin farmer came up with a far more appealing name. In China, this heirloom variety is often intricately carved into roses to garnish special meals. For a radish, it is relatively mild.
The black Spanish radish, with its coal black skin, resembles a dark dirt-crusted beet, and is easy to miss in the vegetable bin. But cut through the rough thick layer, and you’ll find a pure, snowy-white radish that packs a fierce horseradish heat. Planted throughout Europe since medieval times, the black Spanish radish does especially well in climates such as ours.
Both these radishes are descendants of the more familiar daikon radish. This long white root looks like a fat carrot with pale green top. It’s relatively juicy and tender, with a heat level that falls between the Beauty Heart and black Spanish varieties. We’ll have to wait until spring for those delicate red, round and pinky-sized French breakfast radishes; they have a shorter season and shelf life.
You’ll find winter radishes in the bulk section of the produce aisle in food co-ops and at our winter farmers markets. Look for those that are firm and heavy for their size, free of cracks or soft spots. Store them in the refrigerator wrapped in a paper bag or newspaper, not a plastic bag that traps moisture and speeds decay.
To prepare these radishes, rinse them well, then chop and add to egg, chicken and shrimp salads to add some zip. Slice them thin to layer on top of bruschetta that’s been spread with pâté or a mild fresh cheese, such as chèvre. Toss them in stir-fries at the last minute or float them on top of creamy soups for flavor and crunch.
Zesty radishes are my kitchen’s cold season remedy; they lighten and brighten plates until we get to spring.
Beth Dooley is the author of “In Winter’s Kitchen.” Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.