Most people (including me until relatively recently) think of a small, round, pink variety when picturing a radish, usually either sliced or added whole to a garden salad. You may also remember the humble radish cut in an ‘artistic’ fashion and added as a garnish to any number of 1970’s dishes, I’m not sure you were even supposed to eat them.
Clearly I wouldn’t be writing this if there wasn’t more to this diminutive vegetable and indeed there is. Radishes are available in huge range of shapes, sizes, colours and flavours and can be prepared and enjoyed in many more ways than simply plonked on a salad. Radishes fall into 4 main types from the aforementioned little pink fellow to robust flavoured black varieties, large pointed white versions and pretty Oriental radishes like ‘Watermelon’ pictured above. Here’s the gist of it :
Summer or Table Radishes
Usually small rooted and red, pink or white in colour. Includes varieties like ‘Short Top Forcing, Cherry Bell and ‘French Breakfast’. Flavour hot and peppery.
Storage or Winter Hardy Radish
Radishes for storage tend to be larger than table radishes, about 2-4 inches in diameter and with a coarser flesh and are excellent in stews. They can be left in the ground over winter if the ground isn’t too wet or stored in boxes of moist sand. Winter radishes can also be left in the ground to produce delicious succulent and spicy seed pods the following year. Varieties include ‘Black Spanish’ and ‘China Rose’.
Asian radishes include the the long white ‘Mooli’ or ‘Diakon’ varieties and the pretty and sweet ‘Beauty Heart’ or ‘Watermelon’ radish. In general Asian varieties are difficult to grow earlier in the year as they are prone to bolting but are ideal as Autumn or overwintering crops.
Asian radishes range from mild to hot and and are equally good cooked as they are raw. Finely chopped ‘Mooli’ varieties are typically used as a garnish around sushi or grated and sprinkled with salt and lemon juice as a refreshing salad.
Radishes produced for their pods are generally known as ‘Rats Tail Radishes’ which don’t have the most attractive name but are delicious added to stir fries or salads where they add a welcome peppery bite. Rats tail radishes can also be pickled and taste wonderful on their own or as a side dish to grilled meat or fish where you might normally use capers.
How to grow radish
Radishes of all types prefer a light, nutrient rich soil with good drainage, Spring and Autumn sowings like full sun while Summer sowing are better in partial shade which helps discourage bolting. They can be grown in modules if planted out within 2-3 weeks but are more successful when sown direct where the relatively large seeds are easy to sow. Radish seeds germinate easily and should sprout in 3 to 4 days. Summer and Winter radishes are a quite different as Winter radishes are a much larger slower growing crop than their giddy Summer cousins.
Summer radishes are ready from about 4 weeks after sowing after which time they will either become woody or run to seed. They are hardy so can be sown from late March/early April until late July. Sow small amounts 2.5cm apart in rows 15cm apart at a depth of 1.5cm. As soon as the seeds have germinated thin out any excess plants to leave the required spacing.
To keep a supply of fresh radishes throughout the season sow small quantities every two weeks.
Summer radishes are likely to be attacked by flea beetle, the leaves will be full of tiny holes as if blasted by a shotgun. I don’t like using it but the insecticide ‘Derris’ is traditionally used for control with more organic method (championed by Bob Flowerdew and mentioned in Klaus Laitenberger’s book) as follows: Wave a treacle coated piece of card above the effected plants, the beetles will jump when disturbed and find themselves glued to the sticky card rather than escaping to a neighbouring plant.
Winter & Asian Radish
Avoid sowing in Spring and early Summer as these varieties are likely to run to seed, early to late summer is the most reliable time for the Asian radishes while delaying till July is recommended for Winter varieties. Average spacing is 15cm between plants and 30cm between rows.
Winter varieties taste best if left in the ground during the winter and can be protected with a mulch of straw or a layer of heavy duty horticultural fleece. In wet areas it is better to lift and store in boxes of moist sand.
Summer Radishes with salt, butter and anchovies
I can understand why many of you mightn’t like salted anchovies, they’re not for everyone. If you don’t fancy their strong flavour just leave them out, the radishes are still delicious without.
1 Summer Radishes
2 Tbs butter
1 tsp tinned anchovies
1 pinch sea salt
Wash the radishes and slice in half. Mix the butter and anchovies to form a paste and smear a dollop on each half radish. Sprinkle the sea salt at the last minute before you eat so the salt remains crunchy and doesn’t have time to dissolve.
I’m a big fan of roasted vegetables in general, particularly beetroot so the idea of roasting radishes makes perfect sense to me. Cooking radishes takes away their strong bite and brings out their mellow sweetness. These quick and easy roasted radishes make a handy snack, try them with some crusty bread, olives and feta cheese.
Toss halved trimmed radishes on a baking sheet with olive oil, sea salt, and freshly ground black pepper. Roast at 425° until crisp-tender, about 10 minutes. Toss with fresh lemon juice, room- temperature butter, and chopped fresh herbs; season with flaky sea salt.
250 ml radish pods
50 grams salt
2 dried chilies
280 ml white wine vinegar
Pick the pods on a dry day, discard any that are blemished or hard.
Make up a brine with salt and 500 ml water and plunge the pods into it while still hot. If they look bright green they are ready for pickling. If not, strain them off, re-boil the brine and repeat the process.
Strain off the brine and wash the pods under cold water to get rid of excess salt. Drain well and pack into clean, sterilised jars with the dried chillis. Heat up the vinegar and boil for 5 mins, then cool. Pour over the pods, seal and store for a couple of months.