Plant Profile: The Humble Radish

This article by Samantha Johnson first appeared in the May/June 2020 edition of the Northern Gardener

It’s springtime and that means it’s time to talk about one of the best (and sometimes overlooked) vegetables: the radish. As gardeners, we praise the merits of peas and pole beans and carrots and lettuce yet fail to truly appreciate the wonder of the humble radish.

Radishes are found in a delightful array of colors and shapes, they’re incredibly easy to grow, and they mature at lightning speed. And lest you think that their use is limited in the kitchen, let me reassure you: radishes are surprisingly versatile in a variety of dishes. The radish is a reliable, hardy spring vegetable that deserves far more credit than it gets, so let’s shine the spotlight on it today.

a bunch of spring radishes

Organic freshly picked Radish and leaves set on a twig matting base.

Plant Now

My favorite thing about radishes is that you can plant them early in spring, even before your last frost date. Sow your radish seeds directly into the garden, approximately ¼- to ½-inch deep and 1 to 2 inches apart. (Helpful hint: If you’re also planting carrots, you can sow them along with your radishes. The radishes germinate so quickly that they’ll help mark your carrot rows while you wait for those oh-so-slow carrots to germinate.)

Choose a location in full sun and aim for soil that’s loose, sandy and well drained. Water regularly; you can also consider adding mulch if your soil tends to dry out.

My second-favorite thing about radishes is that they mature so quickly—most spring varieties are ready in less than a month. You could be harvesting fully grown radishes in the time it takes your carrots to decide to germinate. Varieties like Early Scarlet Globe epitomize the stereotypical image of a round, red radish, but you can also find white radishes (White Icicle), yellow radishes (Helios), purple radishes (Plum Purple) and many others, including elongated radishes that are somewhat reminiscent of colorful carrots.

It’s time to harvest radishes when they reach approximately 1 inch in diameter, and then the fun begins in the kitchen.

Raw or Cooked

If you prefer the spicy, peppery flavor of raw radishes, then you can’t go wrong by serving them in salads or thinly sliced on open-faced sandwiches. (The perfect combination: Sliced radishes with butter on toasted bread or a baguette—it’s oh-so-simple but oh-so-good!) Raw radishes also shine when added to slaws instead of or in addition to cabbage.

Grilled, roasted, sautéed—cooking your radishes presents endless opportunities for culinary adventure. Roasted radishes make an excellent accompaniment when served with roasted carrots, onions and potatoes, or go ahead and let the radishes be the star. Roasted radishes pair well with garlic and rosemary, especially with a touch of Parmesan cheese. Or roast with honey or maple syrup for an added element of sweetness.

Parmesan isn’t the only cheese that suits radishes—ricotta is another excellent choice. Try radishes and ricotta together in salads, on bread, or even in a frittata. Or take it one step further and add sugar snap peas into the mix for a perfectly harmonious trio.

Feta cheese is another excellent companion for radishes and both ingredients pair well with cucumbers, which opens up even more options for innovative salads. Or you can skip the feta and opt for a sour cream dressing for your radishes and cucumbers. A crème fraiche dressing is another popular option.

If you prefer a hint of citrus, then you’re in luck, because lemons, oranges and limes are flavorful friends for radishes and perfect for salads. For a hardier meal, serve along with your favorite fish or chicken entrée.

And if I haven’t yet piqued your interest in radishes, let me leave you with these words: sautéed radishes with bacon. Need I say more?

Based in northern Wisconsin, Samantha Johnson is the author of several books, including The Beginner’s Guide to Vegetable Gardening, (Voyageur Press, 2013).

 

 

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