Radishes are as close as one can get to instant gratification in outdoor gardening. A brief two weeks after planting seeds, rain and cool weather permitting, one can harvest the first baby radishes and roll them briefly in a pan with a little butter and salt. Glorious. The watermelon radish, as it turns out, is not in the group of fast-growing “breakfast” type radishes that one must harvest quickly before they become tough and strongly flavored. It is a daikon, or winter radish, related to the giant, green and white radishes you may see stacked at the market.
Because it takes a longer period of time to reach a decent size, the watermelon radish requires a unique set of circumstances that I had not yet been able to coordinate in Zone 7. Not until this year, that is. When I planted them in the spring, we would have a day or two of unseasonably warm weather and the radishes would immediately flower, effectively ending the growing season. The first time I planted them in the late summer, I had the same experience with bolting plants and zero radishes to be had. Last fall I waited until September to scatter seeds, the weather stayed cool enough to prevent flowering, and I was finally rewarded with some decent-sized radishes. Luck prevailed.
Radishes are relatively tolerant of cold weather, but I had to pull these during the first appearance of the polar vortex. With my cold frame already deployed over the turnip and lettuce bed, I tossed a plastic bin over them the first really cold night, but you can see that the leaves froze anyway. I wasn’t willing to lose the roots, and these are supposed to be keeper radishes, so into the crisper they went wrapped in a damp tea towel.
These specimens were by no means as large as these types of radishes can get. The largest one was about the size of a duck’s egg, and they certainly would have continued to grow if the cold snap had held off. Over the next few weeks, however, we enjoyed the radishes shaved over green salads. They are so pretty and mildly flavored enough that I think most people, even kids, will like them. If you are lucky enough to live in an area where there are long stretches of relatively cool weather, daikons will do beautifully in your garden.
I tried one other preparation, a shaved radish and carrot salad. There are myriad recipes out there, so I did a bit of mish-mashing and ended up with a lime juice and honey dressing. Cameron liked this one a lot more than I did, but I think it’s worth another go, maybe with arugula for a little sharpness. The carrots and radish were really sweet together.
I will close with a reliable radish recipe and a bonus daikon, purchased at the Vietnamese market. They are not always available, but I have found pink-skinned, white-fleshed specimens as well as this gorgeous purplish radish. They are keepers – weeks in the vegetable drawer of the fridge are a genuine possibility if you can’t use up the whole thing in one go. The recipe is adapted from a radish dip published in the old Martha Stewart Living magazine. I salt the julienned radish and let it lose some of its water before pressing the drained shreds and mixing everything together, add just enough sour cream to bind the radish bits together, and I use dried dill. All of those little tweaks keep things from getting watery in the bowl, and they also make it a little more vegetable forward. Served with crackers or as a tartine, it’s delicious, despite the fact that it looks a bit like tartare with the purple radish.
Radish season is beginning again, so I’ve sown seeds and am hoping for the best. I’ve been gone for more time than usual because life got busy, but things seem to be settling down, so it’s back to the garden. Enjoy the spring!