It’s now, around January and February, that daikon radishes begin to really sell, said Tamarack Hollow Farm’s farmer Amanda Andrews. She drives down from Burlington, Vermont, every week to sell produce at the Union Square Farmers Market on Wednesdays, and says that only diehard daikon fans really buy them when they’re first harvested in September. At that point in the year, the long, white radishes are often overshadowed by spotlight-stealing fall produce like tomatoes, squash and berries.
Food writer Cathy Erway is one of Tamarack Hollow Farm’s customers, and she’s a fan of daikon because of its versatility. “It has a very mild taste, and it’s very pleasant because it takes on any broth or flavoring that you want to give it, and it just really absorbs it all,” she said. “It doesn’t lend too much of a funky or spicy... radish taste that we associate with the vegetable. So, in a way, it’s kind of a blank slate.”
Erway, who is the author of the book The Art of Eating In and the blog Not Eating Out in New York, says that daikon can even replace some of those fall vegetables that are no longer available locally. “You can saute it, slice it up, and stir-fry it maybe with garlic, just like you would with a zucchini or summer squash,” she said. She suggested cooking it until it’s just crisp-tender, when “the inside is just a little bit whitish and the rest of it is softer and more translucent.”
Daikon is also an ideal winter vegetable because it holds up well when braised or slowly cooked in stews and soups. “It has an amazing ability to stay in big chunks,” Erway explained.
Farmers are also have a special use for the easily grown vegetable: Some use it as a cover crop. Andrews said that a farmer friend got a new field ready for planting by first seeding it with daikon. Once the vegetable was mature, the farmer set the cows into the field to munch. The resulting fertilizer from the cows, decomposing daikon remnants, and divots left by the long vegetable meant the farmer didn’t have till the now-fertilized field. Not only was it labor saved, Andrews explains it was also better for the soil.
“There’s a living strata in your soil and different bacteria thrive in different areas of the soil, different oxygen levels, different moisture levels, and if you turn all of that over, it means that it’s upending that whole life cycle,” she said. “You certainly do sometimes need to turn a field over, but if you can do it not too frequently, it’s better for the soil.”
Part of the reason daikon serves as such a good cover crop is because of its sometimes gigantic proportions. Erway said that’s fine for culinary purposes because the vegetables saves well in the crisper drawer. “Look for ones that are firm and not too blemished on the surface,” she advised. “You usually peel it anyway.”
It’s a bonus if there are still greens attached to the radish. “Radish greens are really healthy for you and you can just saute them like you would most any other greens,” Erway said, adding that the greens can also be added to soup or stew. Or, if you’re feeling particularly inspired, Erway suggested using the greens to make a spinach-like fresh pasta. Her recipe for that, along with seared daikon with chilies, garlic, and lemon, is below.
Daikon Radish Greens Pasta with Seared Daikon Radishes
by Cathy Erway
(makes 4 servings)
- 2 medium-sized daikon radishes with their leafy greens still attached
- 1 large egg
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- pinch of red pepper flakes
- juice of about half of a lemon
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon butter
- salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Separate the radishes from their tops and strip the leaves from the stems. Bring a small pot of water to a boil and submerge the leaves. Remove after 30-45 seconds and transfer immediately to an ice bath to cool. Squeeze the leaves out and transfer to a food processor or blender. (Alternately, you can just chop them finely with a knife instead.) Add an egg to the food processor/blender to puree, stopping to scrape down the sides as necessary.
Place the flour in a bowl and make a well in the center. Pour the greens/egg mixture into the center and begin stirring it to let the flour gradually fall in from the sides. Continue doing this until all the flour has been incorporated. Dust a surface with flour and knead the dough for 8 minutes, until smooth. Cover with plastic and let sit for 15 minutes.
Peel the daikon radishes and halve lengthwise. Cut into about 1″ long pieces on a bias along the length of the radishes. Heat a large, wide pan with the olive oil and add the garlic and chile flakes over medium-high. Once hot, add the daikon pieces and don’t stir for the first minute or so to let them sear a little. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Reduce heat to medium (so garlic doesn’t burn) and cook, stirring occasionally, for another 2 minutes, or until pieces are more translucent but still crisp. Turn heat off until pasta is ready to add (see below).
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Crank the pasta into thin sheets (I used the 6 level for thickness on my pasta crank) and then into pasta noodles of your choice (I chose fettuccine). When water is boiling, drop in the pasta at once and stir. Fresh pasta noodles need only cook about 2 minutes. Transfer the noodles immediately to the pan with radishes. Add the butter and lemon juice and toss to coat evenly. Taste for seasoning, adding salt and pepper as desired, and serve immediately.