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No Ordinary Radish: A Guide to the Various Types of Radishes

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A Guide to Radish Varieties

Watermelon Radishes The emergence of heirloom varieties of familiar, standard produce often has the power to get us excited about the thing we’d been eating for most of our lives. It’s not just a tomato (or eggplant, or pepper) anymore, but a unique treat that comes in all the flavors and colors of the rainbow. Suddenly each bite is something to be discovered, promising endless culinary possibilities. This is one reason (among many) that we love our farmers’ markets – they give us a glimpse of the variety to be had, the genetic diversity that may only be found in the small farm or garden.

With radishes, too many of us get jaded. Radishes are traditionally garnishes, used to lend some color and the suggestion of freshness to a dish. They taste bitter, so we tend to push it to the side along with the limp ruffle of kale and lemon wedge, items generally not to be ingested.

Watermelon radishes, a jewel in the rough, have revolutionized this view, along with their tender cousins, French breakfast radishes. One after another, foodie blogs burst with excitement at their discovery. With their unremarkable white, knobby exterior, the Watermelon radish could be mistaken for a turnip. Crack one open, however, and behold a brilliant fuchsia splash of color, radiating from the core. The Watermelon radish has some of the sharpness of traditional radishes, but also, as its rich inner hue seems to suggest, a milder sweetness. The center is the sweetest part, with heat increasing toward the skin.

An heirloom variety of the Chinese daikon, the Watermelon radish is a cool weather brassica. To minimize bitterness, seeds should be sown early enough to let the plants mature before temperatures reach 80 degrees F.

To let the root vegetables develop well, they need loose, well-drained soil and partial to full sun. The small seeds should be planted shallowly and kept watered until germination, after which they need little care except thinning, as per the recommendations of the seed packet.

After the quick 20-50 day maturity time, the radishes show you when they’re ready by lifting up out of the ground a little.

If you plan to eat the greens, blast off aphids and flea beetles with the hose to prevent unsightly holes in the leaves. (The greens, slightly sharp like most mustard greens, and can be sautéed with garlic and oil – similar to the preparation of broccoli rabe.)When harvesting, hose off the radishes onsite to conserve soil and water in the garden.

Prepare the radishes simply, letting the flavors speak for themselves. The brilliant pink color and subtle flavor is best preserved by leaving them raw. Thinly sliced, they are good tossed with lime juice and some sea salt, or in a salad with onions and a dressing of cider vinegar, orange juice, salt and pepper, and mint or cilantro. They can also be roasted in olive oil and some sugar, or pickled – a popular method of preparation – in the refrigerator in cider vinegar and some salt.

–Genevieve Slocum is a Contributor to The Free George.

The Free George is the online magazine and visitors’ guide of Upstate NY, covering things from Albany to Lake Placid, including Saratoga, the Lake George region and the Adirondacks. Check out our new City Blogs section for our extended coverage areas as well.

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