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Radishes are coming into their own

November 11, 2018

For years I’ve taken radishes for granted. Although they’re ever-present in my vegetable garden in spring and fall, they’ve never been one of the crops that I find particularly exciting.

Maybe it’s because radishes are so quick and easy to grow. If you plant the seeds in cool weather and withhold nitrogen fertilizer, you’re almost guaranteed success. (Avoid growing radishes in rich soil, which will produce fine top growth but only minimal roots. And hot weather turns radishes woody.)

I’ve also never been a fan of radishes’ sharp flavor. A few radishes are fine shredded into a salad for a bit of color and a little kick in taste, but you won’t catch me eating whole radishes. I once went through a phase of carving large radishes into flowers for hors d’oeuvre trays, but stopped making the effort after I noticed nobody ever ate them.

But now something new is happening: Radishes are coming into their own as a cooked vegetable. Turns out, roasting mellows radishes’ spicy flavor, which I’m told Europeans have been practicing for decades.

Roasting radishes is easy: Cut washed roots in half or, if the radishes are large, cut them into wedges. Sprinkle them with olive oil and kosher salt, put them on a baking sheet, and roast the roots in the oven at 400 F. until they’re fork-tender.

You can find dozens of recipes online for roasted radishes. Two simple ways to use roasted radishes: season with a little lemon juice and serve as a hot side dish, or cool to room temperature and serve with salad dressing.

Now that radishes have my attention, I’m enjoying choosing from a wide array of varieties. My choice for the most beautiful: the so-called watermelon radishes such as Red Meat and Rido Red Hybrid. Both are white on the outside, watermelon-red on the inside. And both are large, and extra-sweet.

There are not only round varieties but also long, slender French breakfast types that mature in as little as 21 days. Then there are the daikon radishes traditional for autumn harvest. They resemble white carrots that mature in about 50 days.

Some varieties of radishes are grown not for their roots but for their long, skinny seedpods. These pods typically have a radish-like flavor that is more subtle than that of the roots. You can chop raw pods into salads or add them to stir-fries. Rat Tail is an heirloom variety grown for pods, while Dragon’s Tail is a new variety.

But for the quickest way to enjoy a crop from radish seeds, you’ll want to try micro greens. All you need is a shallow container filled with potting soil and a sunny window. Sow the seeds, cover them with a little soil, and water. In only two weeks, use scissors to harvest your first cuttings for salads.

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