Radishes are an unsung hero of the vegetable garden. I plant them in the same rows as cabbage, kale, beets, spinach, kohlrabi, etc. They sprout early, so help to break the ground for more delicate plants, then they provide safe harbor for them in the early days. They grow quickly and abundantly. My favorite variety is the “Cherry Belle,” but there are many different types. It’s fun to get several varieties so you have an interesting array on your plate. The long ones in this image are “French Breakfast.”
Many times when I discuss garden produce with others, they ask, so “what do you do with them?” I believe the underlying question behind the question is “what could you possibly do with so much of one vegetable?”
My first answer to “what do you do with them” is to eat them fresh. This answer applies to all vegetables directly out of the garden. There is nothing as tasty as a fresh vegetable directly out of the garden. My spring favorites include asparagus tips snapped off the top of a stalk and sweet peas, fresh out of the pod. As the summer progresses, more favorites include bright red tomatoes still warm from the sun and cucumbers that you rub on the side of your jeans before munching the whole thing after a morning walk. In the heat of summer, my favorites include fresh okra and green beans. You can hold the okra by the tip and throw the tips in the patch of horseradish. Another favorite summer treat is sweet corn. If you have never eaten a fresh ear of sweet corn directly off the plant, you owe yourself this pleasure.
One of my favorite cookbooks is The Kitchen Garden Cookbook, a Passionate Cook’s Recipes to Bring Out the Best in Garden-Fresh Produce, by Sylvia Thompson. The book is organized by garden produce name in alphabetical order. Each section gives general directions on when is the best time to harvest and how to care for the crop. If you are blessed with a lovely harvest of radishes, here is Sylvia’s advice.
“When you slice radishes into salad, leave a snippet of root and stem on. You’ll soon get used to – and be fond of – the little tendrils of roots waving in the air and to biting down on the succulent bits of stalks.
When you have a bumper crop of radishes, cook them as though they were baby turnips, which you can cook as though they were carrots. Rinse the radishes until no earth remains in the bottom of the bowl. When you poach little red guys, they turn delightfully rosy. It takes 6 to 7 minutes for radishes to cook tender-crisp – don’t overcook so they retain some crunch.
To me, the most sophisticated and the most innocent way to eat any sort of tender radish is to swipe one through my pat of soft sweet butter and pop it in my mouth.”