Thursday, 22 July 2010

King of the Crops

So today I'm blogging about a mighty king of crops, a vegetable that was so highly prized by the Ancient Greeks that likenesses were made of it in gold. A vegetable so venerable that the Ancient Egyptians were chomping it. Something that Erich Von Däniken missed a trick on - there is no record of their early history or domestication (so must have been left behind by those Mayan astronauts). It's also rich in antioxidants, vitamin B6 and lots of other lovely vitamins and minerals. And in Germany its served with beer.But alas, this kingly crop has fallen from favour. Where once it was a subject of Greek bling, it now sits sadly on the side of salads and rattles about forlornly at the bottom of the veg drawer in the fridge.
Have you worked out what it is?

It is, of course, the Radish!
There are roughly three varieties of radish: Spring/Summer, Autumn/Winter & Seedpod (though opinions on how the bajillion kinds of radish should be categorised vary. And there's also oilseed radish to make things more complicated).

Spring/Summer radishes are the ones we associate with salads. Cherry Belle, French Breakfast, Sparkler & Amethyst are all good varieties (you can get packs of radish seed in all kinds of colours - yellow, white, pink, purple. All taste like radish, but look very pretty!). They are fast growing (3-4 weeks), crisp, juicy & early in spring they are mild flavoured, but hot up as the summer progresses.But don't just dump them on the side of a few lettuce leaves and call it a salad! Do something special with these shiny little gems! They can be grated & mixed with cream cheese or quark for a delicious dip/sandwich filling (depending on how roughly they are grated). Roasted whole in a hot oven they mellow & sweeten into something turnipy & toothsome. Halve & toss around in a frying pan with a little olive oil until tender, then add a splash of Apple Balsamic vinegar. Add to stir fries for a bit of crunch, or slice & top quiche or tarts before baking.

Autumn/Winter radishes are slower growing. Spanish Black Round & Daikon (or Mooli) are the most well known varieties. They are much larger, at least carrot sized and often bigger, and are used much like turnips in cooking or used to make pickles. The Dim Sum classic Turnip cake is actually made from Winter radish. The taste of cooked winter radish is very turnip-like, and it is used in soups, Oden (a Japanese winter stew of daikon, fish cakes & boiled eggs in a seaweed broth) & stir fries
There is also the German beer radish, a faster-growing winter variety (about 6-8 weeks to go from seed to very-big-carrot sized). It is traditionally sliced, rubbed with salt & served with beer (okay, so this picture has Polish beer, but they were still a very happy combination!). There are a few fun varieties out there, but I really recommend the tongue twisting Hilds roter Neckarruhm (pictured). It's spicy, crisp & grows up to 30cm long!

Lastly, there are the seed pod varieties. Any radish that bolts will produce pods, but it's worth getting varieties bred for pod production (Rat-tail radish is very good, though make sure you have enough space for it, it gets up to 1 meter in height!). The pods also go well with beer, and are delicious raw or thinly sliced in salads. They are also tasty stir fried (I do a version of Bhindhi Bhaji using them. Yum!)

Luckily there is still somewhere that appreciates the mighty radish - Mexico! Every year on December 23rd Noche de Rábanos (Night of the Radish) is celebrated in Oaxaca city, where an exhibition of sculptures made from radishes is held. The themes are usually nativity scenes, model buildings and Awesome Things That Saints Have Done.

Seriously, I'm not making this up. Google it.

Friday, 9 July 2010

All Your Bad Days Will End

Yesterday was a pretty bad day. And today was a miserable, weary, depressed day. A sick & tired of feeling sick & tired day.
Then I got an email from a friend. Her name is Camilla. We've never met, never spoken to each other, but one day Camilla wrote me a letter. It was a long, long letter, full of the things that she loved, art in clay, the thoughts in her head, the music that filled her days & the words on the paper sang. So I wrote a letter back, opened up my head & tipped the contents onto the page, messy & random & singing it's own song.In March she found out that she was pregnant, and due in September.
Just enough time to get out the crochet hook & make something that will fit in an envelope, cross an ocean and wrap her & the little one in love & warmth & hope & friendship.

Today is a damn good day

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

A Bit of a Pickle

Hello Blog!
Okay, so the more-blogging-thing isn't quite working, but I am trying. I'm not just lying on the sofa all day reading China Miéville (well, maybe a little bit). Time has mostly been spent redecorating living room & bathroom (what kind of idiot puts wallpaper in a bathroom anyway?), digging, planting & repotting, and battling the encroaching hoards of weeds, cats that insist on sleeping in the radishes & desperately trying to keep the Peas That Won't Stop Growing under some control (alas, there have been some tragedies. A patch of Eliza's* took umbrage to the Orca beans & lynched them. It was like that episode of Macguyver where the ants take over a plantation. Strong words and whacking with sticks got things under control, but I'm pretty sure that when the End of Days are upon us, it won't be Zombies that destroy us all, but legumes.)
Oh, and I've also been making chutney. Yay!

The Pineapple Chutney is inspired by a recipe in Monesha Bharadwaj's India's Vegetarian Cookery (one of my favourite cookery books, and one of the few I actually read the recipes in, rather than just look at the pictures & improvise) for fresh Pineapple chutney.

Pineapple Chutney
1 Pineapple, peeled & chopped into 1cm-ish dice
400ml white wine vinegar
225g demerera sugar
225g dates, chopped
225g raisins
2" piece of ginger, grated (don't worry about peeling it)
1 tsp salt
2 tsp dried flaked chillies
1 tsp panch phoron**
1 lemon (juice & zest)

Tip everything into a large pan & bring slowly to the boil, stirring regularly. It will take around an hour to an hour & a half to thicken up. Pour into sterilised jars & store somewhere cool & dark, and don't think about opening it for at least a month.
A hot, sweet chutney that goes well with cheese, curries and, when no one's looking, straight out of the jar with a spoon.

Right. Off to plant out some more pumpkins, and watch the fledgling barn swallows flitting about.

*Actually the Ezethas Krombeck Blau, but my shonky brain can't hold that many letters, so they're just 'The Eliza's' now

**A Bengali spice blend of equal parts cumin seed, fennel seed, fenugreek seed, black mustard seed & Nigella seed