Every week we get Down & Dirty, in which we break down our favorite unique seasonal fruits, vegetables, and more.
Today: Welcome to the dark side. Meet a coal-colored radish with a serious bite.
Radishes belong to the mustard or cabbage family (along with brassicas like horseradish, broccoli rabe, cauliflower, and romanesco), and they have been around for a very long time. No, not the one you just bought -- but they are one of the oldest cultivated plants. In Roots, Diane Morgan shares that they are believed to be first cultivated “before 2000 B.C., probably in Egypt, where they were reportedly included in the daily rations, along with onions and garlic, given to the workers who built the pyramids.” It’s also rumored that this, in turn, inspired said workers to implement the first Not Sad Work Lunch.
More: Short on time? Here are lunches that pack in 5 minutes or less.
Keep your eye out for black radishes at the farmers market from fall into early spring. You might have already passed right by them, thinking they were especially deeply-colored or dirt-covered beets -- black radishes certainly aren’t as cheery as the pretty pink orbs you might be used to. They have coarse, charcoal-colored skin (1), and creamy white flesh (2) with a spicy bite.
Select specimens that are firm, feel heavy for their size, and are free of cracks; they can be round like these, or more elongated. They store well, so don’t be surprised if you only find them without their greens attached. As for where to store them, Elizabeth Schneider says: “Nothing is better than a root cellar, where you can keep the radishes buried in earth.” What? You don’t have one?! (Us either.) Not to worry -- just wrap them in newspaper or perforated plastic in the refrigerator, and they’ll keep well for a long time even sans cellar.
In the kitchen, black radishes play well with both potato and egg dishes, and here are a few more ways to enjoy them both raw and roasted:
Keep it simple and roast black radishes with olive oil and salt. (Need a refresher? Here’s how to roast any vegetable in 4 steps.) Branch out and roast some grapes too, then fold them into lemony quinoa. Black radishes can also be roasted whole, and then peeled and mashed, or try slicing them thinly and turning them into radish chips.
Yes, they’re pungent, so they probably aren’t the radishes that you want to take a big bite of after slathering with butter and sprinkling with salt, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy them raw. Dice, slice, or shred them into a salad with celeriac, pomegranate, and pecorino; apples, lemon, and mint; or carrots, arugula, and thyme. If you’re worried that you won’t be able to handle the heat, salt the radishes before you use them to take the edge off, or try pickling them.
What are your favorite ways to use black radishes? Tell us in the comments!
Photos by James Ransom