Produce at its Peak: Winter Radishes

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Most of us are familiar with the crimson-skinned, green-top spring radishes, so when a craving sets in, this is the radish we crave. But when those beautiful, red radishes are unavailable, Seward Produce has to turn to winter radish varieties instead. Winter radishes offer an even wider array of colors, textures, and flavors than their springtime relatives. Planted late summer and harvested in the autumn before the first, hard frost, these radishes also have the constitution to store well, providing us with unexpected culinary interest the winter long.

Winter varieties range from mildly sweet to pungently spicy and many variations in between. In both spring and winter varieties, pungent flavors are the result of an enzyme reaction that forms a volatile mustard oil. If you find this distasteful, don’t disregard radishes entirely – choose those that lean on the side of sweet or moderate the bite by peeling (which removes the bulk of the enzymes that reside on the skin) or cook to transform the sharpness into sweetness.

Despite a reputation for heat, radishes are in fact a cooling food. And as we head into cool dry weather notorious for respiratory illness, radishes may be a beneficial addition to the winter diet. Radishes have been reported to help prevent viral infections such as the common cold and to be helpful in clearing sinuses, hoarseness, phlegm, and sore throats.

Black Spanish radishes are clad in a coarse charcoal skin with dense and drier white flesh. The flavor is robust and earthy. This variety takes well to braising and roasting.

The skins of the China Rose radish run the full spectrum of pink at times approaching violet and some bear the impression of a hardwood grain. All encasing pure white flesh. Mildly spicy, they are delicious raw with a sprinkle of salt, make a lovely quick pickle with lime juice and salt, but they are also firm enough to be lightly sautéed in butter or added to a stock for a simple soup.

The Daikon is a Japanese variety of radish that is often pickled or eaten as a finely grated accompaniment to sashimi. This long, white variety is crisp, juicy and relatively mild. May be enjoyed raw or cooked and are a delicious addition to a delicate broth as either garnish or substance.

The Green China radish is mildly sweet, juicy, and crispy. This elongated radish is a leafy green near the root-end fading to white at the tip with a jade green interior. Another versatile variety, the Green China radish may be enjoyed raw or cooked.*

Watermelon (or Beauty Heart) radishes are so called because of their green-cast rind and crimson interior but they are also reportedly eaten as a fruit out of hand in northern China. Crisp and semi-sweet, they are a beautiful and delicious addition to salads. Or boil and mash with ginger for a fresh and invigorating approach to a mashed side.

A wonderfully rustic soup can be made with any variety of winter radish or a combination of a few. Heat oil in a pan and add the dice of a small yellow onion. Once translucent, add 1 pound of chopped gold potato. Cook for a few minutes and add one clove of minced garlic. Sauté for a minute or two and deglaze the pan with a half cup of dry white wine. Stir until the wine has nearly cooked off and add 3.5 cups of vegetable broth. Allow the potatoes to soften before adding ¾ pound of chopped winter radish. Cook until softened and puree. Add a ½ cup of cream, salt and pepper to taste, and serve warm.

*While most of the winter radish varieties will be on the shelf with relative consistency, the green china radish is less frequently available.