The poor radish gets no respect in America. We take it for granted, barely registering its crisp snap and remarking only when it gets a little too spicy for comfort in the scorching hot days of summer. It’s merely the supporting actor in the garden salad, the splash of color on the cruditÃ© platter.
The French, however, have long appreciated the humble roots for their satisfying texture and gentle bite, serving them with sweet butter and sea salt. Asian cooks treasure the more pungent varieties for pickles and stir fries.
I say it’s time to give radishes their due on this continent. They’re the stars in this winter salad, which makes the most of what’s in season right now.
Although radishes are year-round vegetables in Northern California, they like cool weather. They’re at their crunchy best right now with none of the bitterness that sometimes marks summer radishes. Any of the many varieties should work well for this salad. I used the common red radishes with bright white flesh, which are easy to find.
The English cucumber they’re paired with is a hot house product at any time of the year. I get mine from the Nagamine family, who grows them in Watsonville greenhouses and sells them at local farmers markets.
Inspiration for the salad came from Nigel Slater’s “Kitchen Diaries” (Gotham Books, 2006). I made some key alterations, though, substituting lemon juice for red wine vinegar, introducing a bed of peppery arugula and omitting the feta cheese. Feta is nice, but not essential to the salad. Feel free to crumble some on top if you have it on hand.
One bite of this salad and you’ll feel like spring has arrived ahead of schedule.
1 large bunch radishes
1/2 large English cucumber, peeled
4-6 green onions, depending on size
2 tablespoons lemon juice
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup (small handful) mint leaves, chopped
1/2 cup (small handful) Italian parsley, choppedSmall bunch baby arugula, washed and spun dry. Wash radishes and trim off leaves and slender root tip. Depending on their size, cut into quarters or halves lengthwise, then slice thinly crosswise. Place in a medium bowl. Cut cucumber into quarters lengthwise and then slice thinly crosswise. You want the cucumber pieces to be roughly the same size as the radishes. Add to radishes in the bowl. Wash and trim green onions and slice thinly, using all of the white part of the onions and as much of the green as is tender. Add to radishes and cucumbers in the bowl.
Drizzle lemon juice over the radishes, cucumbers and green onions. Toss to mix, then drizzle olive oil over the vegetables and toss again. Season to taste with salt and pepper. The salad can sit on the counter at this point for up to an hour while you finish preparing dinner. The flavors will only get better.
When you’re ready to serve, add the chopped mint leaves and parsley to the bowl and toss. Pile the radish mixture on a bed of arugula and serve.
Inspired by “Kitchen Diaries,” by Nigel Slater.