If you want to teach a child about food, a good place to start is with a packet of radish seeds.
I know that it made an indelible impression on me. It was the year that my mother let us kids have a little patch in the yard to plant seeds. I wanted something showy, like tomatoes or apples, but she patiently guided us to an assortment that included radishes.
With the attention span of a 4-year-old, I might well have let that garden go to weeds, if it weren’t for the radishes. They seemed to leap up overnight, and we had planted way too many seeds, so we could thin them and taste a tiny filament of root every day. While we waited weeks to see a green bean or tomato, the radish showed us how powerful little seeds could be.
These days, we have even more varieties of radish to choose from. The most-photographed of all is probably the watermelon radish, with its fuchsia flesh and green skin. There’s also a green radish, with green flesh. Easter egg radishes have pastel-colored skins. Spanish Black Radishes have crisp, white flesh with a bit of heat. The giant white or purple daikon is a Japanese favorite. Whatever the variety of radish, keep in mind that you can use the leaves like parsley.
You may have served radishes on a relish tray, sliced them into a salad and then wondered what you were going to do with all the rest. They are more versatile than you think. When raw, they can step in where a raw onion might go, sliced in a sandwich or chopped into potato salad. The French serve them on buttered baguettes, with coarse salt. Radishes perk up anything creamy, from an avocado toast to a sour cream dip.
The current rage of pickling is a perfect trend to get into with your radishes. Grated or sliced radishes, tossed with vinegar and sugar, become crunchy quick-pickled accents to savory foods. If you’re a canner, you can always add radishes to pickled vegetables such as carrots and beans, for a peppery counterpoint.
Radishes are wonderful cooked, too. Quartered and added to a stir-fry, or roasted, braised in broth, or simmered in soups or stews, they become mild and soft.
Whether you buy a packet of radish seeds, or a bunch of crisp radishes, you’ll be celebrating the new season of spring.
Radish Salsa With Chips and Cotija
Serves 6 (about 3 cups).
Note: The peppery crunch of radishes is perfect in a fresh salsa, with a hint of earthy cumin and the kick of jalapeño. Eat it simply with chips, or spoon it into a bean burrito or over nachos. Vegans can skip the cheese and sprinkle the salsa with toasted pepitas. Cotija is a Mexican cheese. From Robin Asbell.
• 1 bunch red radishes, trimmed
• 1 c. grape tomatoes, chopped
• 2 large jalapeños, seeded and chopped
• 2 large green onions, chopped
• 1/2 tsp. cumin
• 1 tbsp. fresh lime juice
• 1/2 tsp. salt
• Crumbled Cotija cheese or feta (see Note)
Slice each radish, then stack the slices and cut them in thin strips, then again cut those into small cubes. Place in a medium bowl.
Add the tomatoes, jalapeños, green onions, cumin, lime and salt. Toss to coat. Let stand for 20 minutes or so to develop the flavors.
Serve in bowl, sprinkled with crumbled Cotija, if desired, along with chips or atop other dishes.
Nutrition information per ½ cup serving (without cotija):
Calories 15 Fat 0 g Sodium 205 mg
Carbohydrates 3 g Saturated fat 0 g Total sugars 2 g
Protein 1 g Cholesterol 0 mg Dietary fiber 1 g
Exchanges per serving: free food.
Robin Asbell is a cooking instructor and author of “Big Vegan,” “The Whole Grain Promise” and “Great Bowls of Food.” Find her at robinasbell.com.