It’s time to root for the rad radish


Dear Kitchen Shrink:

I love to experiment with new foods and every time something interesting pops up in the produce aisle, I grab it and then I’m left standing in my kitchen, pondering how to use it. For example, radishes have become my latest challenge. I need a crash course in what else to do with this zippy tasting root besides carving them into decorative rosettes. Also, does radish have any health benefits? —Dina R. La Jolla

For years radishes have been persona non grata in the veggie world, left untouched on crudité platters, partially chewed and deposited in kids’ crumpled napkins, even the butt of jokes as in the “Seinfeld” episode when Kramer prepared a radish rose in the shower.

Radishes have powerful healing properties and superb flavors that dial up the taste and appearance of even the most unlikely food mates. Here’s a primer to help you get the best out of these remarkable roots.

Radish: The New Rolaids

Radishes are a member of the Brassicaceae family with cruciferous cousins including cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, horseradish and kale — all mighty anti-cancer warriors. Besides having a zip-a-dee-doo-dah taste and satisfying crunch, radishes are rife with immune-boosting Vitamin C, folic acid, potassium, stress-busting B6, magnesium and bone-enhancing calcium.

This low-cal carb (20 calories per cup) has also been prized for cooling internal heat, soothing sore throats, acting like nature’s Dristan in clearing stuffy sinuses, fine-tuning digestion by disintegrating food particles and flushing out assorted toxins that cause bloating and indigestion. There’s more. Packed with water, phosphorous and zinc, radishes will keep you well hydrated and plump up thirsty cells, giving your complexion a healthy, youthful glow.

Many Faces of Radish

The root grows in a variety of colors, textures and sizes with differing levels of pungency determined by the amount of ‘isothiocyanate’ it contains. They are typically categorized as spring/summer or fall/winter types. The latter group includes the Daikon aka the Japanese radish, elongated like carrots, with lily-white roots having a moderate to mild kick.

The Black Spanish sibling is either round or elongated, with rough black skin and hot peppery white flesh. The watermelon radish has a gorgeous pink flesh, with a milder disposition, adding sweetness and intense color to smoothies and salads. Green radishes are emerald-fleshed with a sweet mellow flavor, while the California Mammoth White, is a Daikon on steroids, growing 8-inches-long yet a gentle giant in mildness.

The spring/summer varieties include the well-known reddish-skinned Cherry Belles and Scarlet Globes with peppery white flesh, the mild and crispy French Breakfast, which fades from carmine to white at the elongated tips, the White Icicle that resembles an albino carrot, and the hearty Plum Purple. Don’t miss out on The Easter Egg (which appears briefly in spring), a mixture of varieties sold in bunches combining white, red, pink and purple.

Bunch of Radish Irrelevance

• Cook’s tip: Pick firm, unblemished radishes with crisp, green leaves.

• Americans chow down on 400 million pounds of radishes a year,

• California and Florida are the biggest growers in the country.

• From seed to salad in 25 days, the rapid-growing radish is a superb choice for children’s gardens.

• Munching a radish has been known to cure hiccups.

A Radish Walks into a Salad Bar

The tender radish greens can be sautéed with olive oil and garlic for a peppery side dish, or juiced with your favorite fruits. Crush Daikons into a paste with mayo and Meyer lemon juice for a riff on cocktail sauce. Braise the tough-fleshed black-root varieties with chicken broth, olive oil and red onions as a side dish for baked chicken or wild-caught salmon. Toss chunks in chicken or tortilla soup or stew. Give a splash of eye candy to Caesar, Cobb and Greek salads with strips of multi-colored radishes. Garnish libations or vegetable cocktails with radish fans or coins. Munch them raw dipped in herbed ricotta cheese. Chop a chutney blending radish, red onion, mango and lime juice and top off your favorite burger. Stuff a baked potato with a puree of radish and sour cream. Shred in a slaw or toss in a potato salad.

Go Italian with radish and Romano risotto, radish and pesto bruschetta or top a pizza with the braised beauties. Whip up a refreshing radish sorbet as an intermezzo or a breezy dessert with the sweeter watermelon radish.

Sweet and Sassy Radish Salad

3 bunches assorted radishes, coarsely chopped or smashed

2 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar

2 1/2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar or Meyer lemon juice

1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

Sea salt to taste

METHOD: Combine ingredients in a large bowl. Mix well and chill. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and garnish with tender radish greens. Serve as a side for chicken, fish, quinoa or brown rice.

For additional radish recipes e-mail