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Last Chance Foods: Radishes

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Radishes, which get sweeter as the weather grows colder, are a great winter crop. Morse Pitts of Windfall Farms has tips for growing, storing, and eating watermelon radishes--and tells you why they go great with salsa.

At Windfall Farms in Montgomery, New York, Pitts caters to foodies as well as farmers by growing specialty radishes like the green daikon and watermelon varieties. The latter is particularly prized and one of nature's great surprises. Green and white on the outside, watermelon radishes have a vibrant pink interior, and when they are sliced in halves or quarters, the segments look just like their namesake. "It's the best tasting radish we've got," says Pitts. "It stores really well, and it's sweet and mild. It tastes like cauliflower if you steam it."

Pitts has been growing organically at Windfall Farms for decades, but he is particularly skeptical of the term organic. He believes that the government has set the standards for organic produce so low that the term has become meaningless. In fact, he says, "Well done conventional farming can be better than poorly done organic." Pitts seeks natural alternatives to pesticides; he plants his radishes in August because he has found that radish-loving bugs are gone by then. While cold weather brings out their sweetness, Pitts explained that radishes grown during the summer will be spicier.

This year, Pitts has nearly three tons of radishes in storage, enough to supply his Union Square greenmarket stand until spring. You can store them, too, in your refrigerator. Pitts says the vegetable can keep for several months; if your radishes get a bit dehydrated, just soak them in a little water. Windfall Farms also grows radish sprouts (a misnomer; they are actually the baby tops of the radish plants) in its greenhouses over the winter.   

For Thanksgiving, Pitts served watermelon radishes as a colorful appetizer and a healthful alternative to traditional salty snacks. He points out that the radish is so mild and crisp that when sliced thin, it can stand in for corn chips or tortilla chips. Radish slices also add flavor and crunch to sandwiches.

Below are some additional recipes for different radish varieties.

Craftbar’s Mâche-and-Watermelon-Radish Salad
(from New York Magazine)

  • 1 pound mâche
  • 1 small watermelon radish
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon acacia honey
  • 1 tablespoon red-wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
  • 2 medium shallots, finely minced
  • 1/8 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

1. Trim the ends of the mâche leaves. Rinse and dry. Peel the radish with a vegetable peeler and slice thinly with a mandolin.

2. In a medium bowl, add mustard, honey, vinegars, and half of the minced shallots. Whisk until combined. Slowly drizzle in olive oil, continuing to whisk until emulsified, and season with salt and pepper.

3. In a large bowl, combine the mâche, the remaining minced shallot, the sliced radish, and the vinaigrette until the leaves are well coated. Adjust seasoning and serve immediately. Serves 4-6.

Other options:

Pickled Daikon Radish and Carrot Salad (Gourmet)
Lemony Radish and Fennel Salad (BBC)
Black Radish Chips (Chocolate and Zucchini)
Roasted Radishes and Radish Greens (Food and Wine)

Next week, Last Chance Foods talks with Amy Chaplin of Angelica Kitchen about turnips. Submit your favorite recipes below, or leave questions for Amy.