As a little girl, I loved the spicy, peppery bite of that first red radish of the season. My Mama grew them in a small bed just outside our kitchen door, and I took to digging them up every chance I got. Not at all hard to grow, radishes are root vegetables with varying skin colors and crunchy flesh. Their shapes range from short and round to long and narrow, with skins that can run the rainbow — red, black, white, yellow, pink or purple.
Radishes, native to Asia, are sorted into different varieties based on shape and color. The familiar red radish we often see in neighborhood supermarkets is the variety Cherry Belle, which is bright red on the outside and white on the inside. Cherry Belles mature in just 22 days and have a mild taste, but grocery store versions are often unimpressive and one-note on the flavor profile.
Winter radishes tend to be larger than their spring cousins and take longer to grow. A prominent winter radish, and one of the largest, is the Japanese daikon. The daikon can grow up to 18 inches long and take up to 60 days to mature. They vary in flavor from mild to hot, and some types of daikons are tasty pickled in rice wine vinegar.
The stunning watermelon or Red Meat variety has a refreshing sweetness that unfolds when eaten raw or starring atop an hors d’oeuvre plate. It has a pale green skin and, when sliced, a glowing pink interior, like its namesake the watermelon. French breakfast radish is said to be so mild you can eat it, well, for breakfast of course! The French love sliced radish dipped in cold butter and salt, simple as that!
For the health-conscious, radishes provide antioxidants, a good amount of vitamin C and compounds that can help regulate blood sugar levels. Being low in carbs and calories and with a low glycemic level, they are a fine choice for folks monitoring their carbs or sugar intake. These tasty little roots are a healthful vegetable to be considered for anyone’s diet.
In the Garden
Radishes are one of the easiest vegetables to cultivate and harvest due to their rapid maturity, making them ideal for the novice or child gardener. Varieties that do well in Alabama’s climate include White Icicle, Scarlet Globe and Cherry Belle.
When to Plant
For a spring harvest, the first planting dates are between February 1 and April 1. For a fall harvest, plant between September 1 and October 1. The plants will mature 25 to 30 days after planting and grow best in cool weather (65 degrees). Warm weather will cause them to bolt and become bitter.
Where to Plant
Radishes should be planted in an area with full sun or partial shade in loose, well-drained soil. Add compost, manure or leaf mold to the soil before planting about 1/2 inch deep and 1 inch apart. Keep the baby plants evenly moist but not soaked. They will grow quickly if watered frequently and evenly.
Radishes can be harvested after 3 to 4 weeks, when their roots are an inch in diameter. You can also enjoy radishes grown in containers in a sunny location.
How to Use Radishes
While commonly seen on salad bars and crudite platters, radishes are so much more versatile than that. Their peppery bite mellows when cooked, and an earthy sweetness comes out.
• Make your own pickled radishes, using white vinegar and spices.
• Thinly slice and use as a topping on tacos for crunch and zip.
• Top your burgers with comeback sauce and sliced radishes.
• Roast radishes with olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic and serve as a side dish.
• Make a radish and onion dip with a plain yogurt base.
• Add quartered radish, apple and onion or other root vegetables to a roasting pan with pork tenderloin.
Chili-Lime Roasted Radishes
1 1/2 pounds radishes, halved
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon chili-lime seasoning
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
1 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
pumpkin seeds, roasted and salted, for topping
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Toss radishes with olive oil, chili-lime seasoning and kosher salt on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast in oven, stirring often, until golden and tender, about 30 to 35 minutes. Adjust seasoning if needed and toss with cilantro. Top with pumpkin seeds and serve.
Sauteed Radishes with Spinach
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 bunches radishes, halved
1 red onion, sliced
salt and pepper, to taste
5 ounces baby spinach
juice of 1/2 lemon
Heat olive oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add radishes and onion. Stir frequently, cooking until tender, about 8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in baby spinach, lemon juice and another pinch of salt and pepper. Cook until spinach is wilted, about 1 minute. Serve warm.
Dooley Berry is a Master Gardener, a cook who is ever learning and a writer of numerous articles in newspapers and lifestyle magazines. She lives, gardens and writes with her husband, Scott, in Spanish Fort, Alabama.