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Articles & Essays

"Homegrown with Carol Stein and Debbie Moose: Find a place for the taste of radishes"

Published 01/17/15
The News & Observer (Raleigh, NC)
      Root vegetables are getting more love these days, but radishes still seem to be left out in the cold.  They're an under-appreciated vegetable outside of the salad bar.
    But with so many heirloom varieties available now, it's time to let radishes climb out of the bowl and into your garden.
    Radishes come in a rainbow of colors, shapes and sizes. The small Cherry Belle variety has smooth, red skin and takes about three weeks to mature after germination.  A type called Easter Egg produces round roots in red, pink, white and purple, like its namesake. The Spanish Round has pitch-black skin and snowy flesh, which makes quite a show when you slice it. Watermelon radishes are inside-out in a way, with green and white skin and bright pink flesh. Sparkler is oval with red shoulders fading to white at the lower end. Rover is a must in Southern gardens, because it tolerates summer heat without becoming bitter or woody.
    Radishes are related to mustard and arugula, and their dark green leaves are similar in shape to arugula. The foliage makes a nice contrast for blooms in container gardens of flowering annuals. The green tops are edible, too - if they are fresh and bright green. Toss them into salads or stir-frys.
    You can grow radishes all year round in our region. They need full sun and loose, slightly acidic soil. If growing in containers, match the size to the ultimate size of the radishes you're growing. For globe-shaped varieties, select containers that are at least eight inches across and eight inches deep. Use ones that are a foot deep for fingerling types, which can grow up to eight inches long.
    In containers, sprinkle seeds on top of the soil and cover with a thin layer of potting mix.
      In the garden, sprinkle the seeds into loose soil and top with compost. Keep the soil moist but not soggy until you see sprouts, then water deeply each week.
      It's important to thin the seedlings in order to get good radish formation. Give individual roots at least two inches of growing room all around.  But don't toss those sprouts – their peppery flavor is tasty in salads.
    Most round radishes are ready to harvest in three weeks, but some long varieties can take a few extra days.  By the third week after germination begin harvesting the plants with the tallest tops a few at a time.  Sow more seeds up until the first week of April, then hold off until it cools down in the fall for all varieties except Rover Hybrid.
    Freshly picked radishes, whether from farmers markets or your backyard, can range in flavor and texture from sweet and creamy to peppery and crunchy, depending on the variety. Their snap in the mouth is refreshing. Place thinly sliced French Breakfast radishes on a buttered slice of baguette, and you have a favorite snack in France.
    Yes, you can roast whole radishes, just like other root vegetables.
    Radishes should feel firm when gently squeezed. If they give even a little, they will likely be woody when you cut them open.
    If you're not going to use the tops, remove them before storing radishes in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. They will keep for up to five days. The older the radishes are, the more peppery their flavor will become.
Quick-Pickled Radishes and Carrots
There are many uses for these easy, colorful pickles. Put some in a tossed salad, serve them alongside cheese or use them for pasta salad. Cut the radishes and carrots into as close to equal-sized pieces as possible.
1 cup radishes cut into 1/4-inch strips
1/2 cup carrots cut into 1/4-inch strips
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 small dried hot pepper, such as a Thai pepper
1 cup rice vinegar
3/4 teaspoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
    PLACE the radishes, carrots, garlic and dried hot pepper in a clean glass jar with a lid. In a small bowl, stir together the vinegar, sugar and salt until the sugar and salt dissolve. Stir in the cumin seeds.
    POUR the liquid mixture into the jar. It should fully cover the vegetables. Screw on the lid and shake gently to distribute the liquid. Place the jar in the refrigerator.
    REFRIGERATE the pickles for at least 24 hours before eating. The pickles will keep in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. Shake the jar occasionally to distribute the flavors.
    YIELD: 6-8 snack or side servings.

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