As a keen child gardener I kept our family supplied with radishes and other veg for several seasons.
We amused ourselves by making radish flowers - cutting them longwise from the tip almost through the base, four or more times, and putting them in a bowl of water with ice cubes until they curled outwards. (Larousse Gastronomique snootily dubs them "radishes a l'americaine, which gave me a laugh.)
Botanically speaking, radishes hang out with the mustards and the brassicas. Originating in China and travelling to Egypt well before the pyramids were built, they soon migrated to Greece, where tiny gold replicas were offered to Apollo, the god of medicine and healing, their anti- inflammatory properties much prized.
When this love-it-or-hate-it vegetable finally made it across the English Channel, Shakespeare was quick to note it in Henry IV: " . . . naked, he was, for all the world, like a forked radish, with a head fantastically carved upon it with a knife." Not the usual Chinese radish rose, then.
Children love to grow radishes because they germinate so fast. Just over a week ago I flung some Yates' French Breakfast seeds (a variety first listed in their 1883 seed catalogue) into the corner of a garden bed with a handful of blood and bone.
By this morning more than half had come up, their twin heart- shaped leaves a joy to behold. We'll be feasting on them in a few short weeks - topped and tailed, washed, heaped in a glistening mound and sprinkled with a little salt, or dried and dipped into a bowl of home-made mayo. Yum.
Chopped finely, they make the perfect foil to the richness of a dip. Blend sour cream, cottage cheese and cream cheese with salt and pepper, smoked salmon, radishes and chives (all chopped). Or blend whole-egg mayo and plain thick yoghurt with chopped dill and a little pressed garlic and dunk the radishes themselves.
These red peppery globes star in salads, of course. They absolutely love avocados and all the usual suspects - tomatoes, grated carrot, sliced celery, watercress, lettuce and cucumber. They contrast wonderfully with soft salad ingredients too, such as tinned butter beans, chick peas and cannellini beans.
Last year, having planted far too many, I tried radishes in stir-fries, with great success. You can add them to pretty much any combo of meat and vegetables; the trick is to slice them evenly in a mandolin or similar and pat them dry. They need the same time as sliced baby turnips - about 2 minutes on a high heat. Toss in some chopped radish leaves just before serving.
For extra zing, stir chopped radish leaves through any creamed soup or sprinkle them on top.
As well as experimenting with stir-fries last year I gave roasting a go, first with whole radishes (hmm) and then halves. Bingo. You get a Mediterranean-style, subtly sweet vegetable with a hint of crunch that goes with just about anything, from roast lamb to grilled fish.
2 large bunches radishes, washed, trimmed and halved lengthwise
2 1/2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
juice and zest of 1 lemon
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat oven to 190 degrees Celsius.
Place radishes, oil and juice in a large mixing bowl and toss thoroughly.
Season with salt and pepper.
Spread radishes in a baking tin and roast for about 25 minutes, turning once with an egg-slice, until radishes have crisped and browned around the edges.
They are done when almost fork- tender.
Drizzle with a little of the oil-lemon mix, scatter with lemon zest and serve.
- The Southland Times