Thursday, May 22, 2008

Radish Tops and Bottoms

Though currently not considered the sexiest vegetable around, the radish has played a starring role at dinner tables around the world since the dawn of civilization. The wild predecessor of radishes is thought to have originated in China. From there they became popular in a wide variety of Asian cuisines, and made their way to the Greek Empire, where they were held in such esteem that small replicas sculpted in gold became part of the ritual worship of Apollo.

This week, Henry will be bringing you golden radishes of a different sort -- the Helios Radish, a pale creamy yellow globe radish with a thin skin and a bit more of a crunch than your normal radish. According to Seed Savers, this is probably the same variety described in 1885 in Vilmorin's The Vegetable Garden as "Small Early Yellow Turnip Radish." They do look a bit like a small golden turnip
-- check them out. But don't forget the mild French Breakfast radishes pictured above, or the classic Red Globe and Easter Egg radishes.

For a few hundred years radishes were a crucial part of the American diet, appearing on the table morning, noon, and night. But vegetables, like everything else, have their cycles, and now radishes in the U.S. are most often relegated to the status of garnish, a fact the British cookbook writer Jane Grigson laments: “It insults radishes, the most ancient of appetizers, to chop them up and bury them in a salad.”

I would add that it insults the radish to unceremoniously discard their lovely greens, particularly in this time of rising food prices. The seemingly rough and unappetizing leaves are delicious and nutritious, and make every bunch of radishes a great two-for-one deal. You can braise the tops with other greens, or include in stir-fries. But ever since I made my first radish green soup, this has been my favorite preparation, velvety and vibrant green--just like the season.

Radish Top Soup
2 Tb olive oil
Greens from 2 bunches of very fresh radishes, coarsely chopped
3 green onions, thinly sliced
2 medium potatoes, thinly sliced
3 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1/2 cup cream (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Radishes and chives for garnish
Heat the oil in a saucepan. Add the greens, sliced onions and potatoes. Toss until leaves wilt. Add 2½ cups broth. Simmer, covered, over low heat until potatoes are soft, about 15 minutes. Put soup in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Return to pan and stir in remaining broth until the soup reaches the desired consistency. Add cream if desired. Season with salt and pepper. Heat soup and ladle into bowls. Garnish with thin slices of radish or chives.

Marinated Radish Bottom Salad
1 large bunch radishes (any variety, about 1 pound)
1 Tb chopped flat-leaf (Italian) parsley
3-4 TB extra virgin olive oil
Fresh cracked black pepper
Kosher or sea salt
1 TB lemon juice
Slice the radishes as thinly as possible. In a bowl, mix the sliced radish with the parsley, olive oil, and pepper. Let marinate from 2 to 24 hours. Season with salt, add the lemon juice, stir again, and transfer to a serving bowl. (Don’t add the salt until just before serving, or it will cause the water to osmose from the radishes, making a watery salad and limp radishes.)


Liz said...

Another thing you can do with radishes is roast them. They are delicious roasted in a high oven with other veggie and herbs.

kat said...

Well, I'm certainly inspired to get this yummy soup on my family's dinner table this weekend. These cool spring evenings are perfect for soup. I LOVE your newsletter and now more fabulousness to read with the blog. And, jeepers, I LOVED the Robert Frost poem. We will be frequent customers at the Evanston Farmer's Market. I've just blogged you today... gotta spread the love...hee hee Have a wonderful week... can't wait to see what's up next week.

bam said...

oh my goodness, i am doing cartwheels over here. this is the blog whose birth i've been awaiting, but i didn't even know it. this medium is soooooo perfect for you. i will tell the world at my little kitchen table to come find you here. complete with pictures. this is intoxicating. it will bring me as close to your sacred earth as i can get without filling my tank with $4-a-gallon gas. thank you for opening up this new world to all of us who consider you among the most sacred of writers........

lcrr_khs said...

For the soup recipe, can you use some of those fresh chives we got tonight in Bloomington for the green onion?