radish rows

It never fails. The first sprouts of the garden season are the radishes. We see them barely peeking through the soil one day — the merest glimmer of green. But by the next morning, they’ve pushed all the way through the dirt and stand at tiny vegetable attention.

They grow fast, these radishes. Their red tops will crown in about a week. Then we’ll have radishes with every meal.

I wasn’t too keen on this fast growth the first year of our garden. All I knew of radishes were the plastic-bagged, hard-as-rock versions you buy in grocery stores. You know … the radishes that clear your sinuses and make your eyes water when you take a bite. The husband was so excited with his multiple rows of radish variety. But I couldn’t fathom how I was going to eat them all.

quinoa radishes
Organic radishes from the local market.

Then I tasted one. It was tender. It was cool and crisp. It was gently peppery, with enough tang to tickle my tongue but no sinus-clearing astringency. This was a vegetable I’d be proud to slice on a salad, shave into a dip or serve whole with a helping of hummus — especially after learning about the healthy doses of potassium, folate and Vitamin C each orb packs.

I started looking for recipes that featured radishes. I found a winner in an old issue of Gourmet magazine that calls for brining them, then adding a vinaigrette made from red wine vinegar, lemon juice and Dijon mustard. The hot brine slightly cooks the radishes, further mellowing their tang. It complements their intense vegetal taste while adding hints of garlic and pepper. This recipe is so good that I’ve even used it on store-bought, organic radishes in the dead of winter.

Now our own crop is arriving, and I’m counting the ways I can use the French breakfast variety we’ve planted. I can:

radish sprout
Radishes are sprouting in our garden.
  • Toss thin wedges into potato and Chinese noodle salads;
  • Dip them whole into a creamy, anchovy-spiked dressing;
  • Put them atop cream cheese-slathered pumpernickel bread; and
  • Use them as a garnish for Asian-inspired beef soup.

If you’re no fan of radishes, I urge you to give them another try. Buy a few loose, organic beauties from your local market or plant a few in a pot. Then eat them raw or try the Gourmet recipe that changed the way I look at my garden gems.

You may become a convert, too.

Radish-Cucumber Summer Salad

  • 4 cups water
  • 1/3 cup kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 4 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 1 bunch radishes, preferably organic or homegrown
  • 1 seedless cucumber

Boil water with salt, sugar, garlic and peppercorns in a pot, uncovered, for 10 minutes.

While brine boils, trim and halve the radishes. Halve the cucumber lengthwise, then cut it crosswise into ½-inch-thick slices.

Remove the brine from heat. Add the radishes and cucumbers and let them stand, uncovered, for 10 minutes.

Drain in a colander, discarding the garlic and peppercorns. Transfer the vegetables to an ice bath to stop their cooking, then drain them well. Transfer them to a large bowl and chill, uncovered, about 20 minutes.

While the radishes and cucumbers are chilling, make a simple vinaigrette by shaking together 5 tablespoons red-wine vinegar, 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice, 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, 2 small garlic cloves, ¾ teaspoon sugar and ¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil. Season the dressing with salt and pepper, then pour 3 tablespoons atop the radishes and cucumbers. (Save the remainder to dress a green salad or blanched green beans.) Toss in 1/2 cup chopped parsley. Serve now or chill for later.