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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is really funny and informative!!! I especially liked the part about the ancient Greeks and the Mexican radish festival!