By Dorothy Cady
Do I have to Pick and eat those radishes?
If you think as I once did that radishes are rather useless vegetables, being good only for spicing up your salads, or loosening up the soil in your vegetable garden to improve it for “real” vegetables, you might want to think again. Radishes are actually more versatile than you may think.
You can use radishes in a variety of ways and a variety of dishes. You also can use more than just the radish itself to spice up your meals. In fact, you can even use the radish greens.
Here are some ideas for making the most of this quick and early growing vegetable, along with some useful information about radishes.
The tops of a radish, also known as radish greens, are edible. You can eat them raw or cooked.
To eat radish greens raw, first wash them, then simply mix the uncooked radish greens in with your lettuce leaves and other salad fixings. Add salad dressing if you like it, and you have a zingy (not boring) salad.
You can also use radish greens in place of lettuce on a sandwich. Eaten this way, you will probably notice a taste difference between radish greens and lettuce as radish greens are often stronger in flavor than the typical leaf of head lettuce.
If you generally prefer to eat your greens cooked, then you may find that you like the radish greens better when they too have been washed and cooked. What’s that you say? You didn’t know you could cook radish greens. Well, you can.
You cook radish greens just as you might any number of other similar greens. For example, you can stir fry radish greens along with bok choy, bean sprouts, and other vegetables for an oriental style dish. You can also just gently boil or steam radish greens until they become limp, then top them with butter and a little salt. Cooked this way, radish greens make a good side dish to accompany most protein foods (chicken, fish, beef, etc.).
Ever eat spinach lasagna? Next time you make it, try adding a few cooked radish greens to the cooked spinach before you layer it in with the cheese. (Be careful not to use too much though, and mix it in with the spinach so it spices up the spinach rather than dominating the flavor of the lasagna in a couple of places.)
One of my family’s favorite ways to eat radishes is right out of the garden. We wash off the loose dirt, sprinkle them with a little salt, and then pop them whole into our mouth. If the radishes are not small enough to eat whole, however, we cut them into bite-sized pieces before we salt them, then we eat them a piece at a time. (My son’s friends also think picking and eating radishes out of the garden is great fun. Sometimes they have to be reminded to wash them off first, however.)
Of course, radishes can also be sliced and added to salads, or chopped up and put into such dishes as soups (to add a little zing), or mixed in with your stir fry vegetables. But did you know that you can also simply boil radishes?
Boiled radishes take on a flavor not unlike that of turnips. So, unless you despise turnips, you might want to try boiled radishes as a dinner side dish one night. You can even try mashing your boiled radishes like you would mash boiled turnips, and add a sprinkle of herbs to gently change the flavor.
Like many root crops, fresh radishes should be stored with their greens cut off. If you leave the tops on radishes, the greens often pull the moisture out of the radish. This leaves the radish pithy in texture, and often intensifies the hot flavor found in many radishes. Removing the greens from radishes before storing them lets you temporarily store both the radishes and their greens for fresh use later on.
Also, as with other root crops, radishes keep longer if stored in a cool place.
You can also keep radishes and greens for longer periods of time if you boil them first. Then you can freeze the cooked radishes the same way you would cook and freeze turnips or carrots. You can also freeze the cooked greens the same way you might cook and freeze spinach.
Do you ever can cooked spinach? Then you might also want to try canning some cooked radish greens. Although, considering how quick and easy radishes can be to grow fresh, you may not want to work that hard canning them.
As you probably know, radishes are one of the easiest vegetables to grow. As long as the ground isn’t so full of rocks or so hard that there’s no room for the root to grow, radishes will grow in most types of soils and in most low to hot temperature ranges.
Radishes generally start and come up quickly with little attention. Most of the time, if you sow radish seeds with nothing more than a little cover of dirt or something to keep the birds from eating the seeds, and as long as there is some moisture, radish seeds will usually sprout.
You can sow radish seeds very carefully, one at a time, but you’ll probably find this method to be a bit tedious and not very practical as radish seeds are quite small. Instead, add the seeds to a handful of sand, then broadcast them over an area. Cover them lightly with a couple more handfulls of sand broadcast in the same area, water them in, then wait for them to grow. (Okay. If it’s really warm out, or there is little rain while they are growing, you may have to water them more than once.)
Most growing instructions for radishes have you thinning the plants to one or two inches apart shortly after the radishes have come up. If you prefer, however, you can wait until the greens are a couple of inches long. Then, snip the tops off and eat the tender young greens. Don’t try to pull the extra radishes out at this point. You’ll only disturb the roots of those you want to leave in the ground, maybe pulling them out entirely, and the tiny radish roots of the thinned plants generally aren’t really radish bulbs by then anyway. Thus, they aren’t worth trying to eat.
Other Benefits of Radishes
Besides being good to eat and helping to break up the soil for other vegetables, radishes can add spice to your salad or dish. They are often the first vegetable to come up in the spring, and even like the cooler weather. Radishes will also reseed themselves if you leave some of them in the ground without cutting off their tops.
Radish plants aren’t entirely unattractive either. If you have an area you need a little temporary fill for, plant radish seeds there. They generally come up quickly and thus can help to cover bare spots. A few packets of radish seeds are also less expensive than buying plants for the area. This is a particularly effective ground treatment when your plans are eventually to plant something more permanent in that area. The radishes help get the ground ready for more finicky plants.
Because radishes germinate well and are easy to grow, you can even grow them indoors on a south-facing windowsill during the winter months. If you choose a radish which develops only small round bulbs, you can plant the seeds in something as shallow as a two to three inch deep baking pan. Bread pans work particularly well because they fit easily onto many windowsills, hold a sufficient depth of soil, and can be lined with aluminum foil to help reflect the low winter light directly onto the radish plants, effectively doubling the amount of light the plants get.
If you combine radish bulbs and greens with sprouts you’ve sprouted yourself, you’ll have an easy and nourishing source of vegetables even on the dreariest of winter days.