With springtime in full bloom, we are here to shine a spotlight on some seasonal favorites you may want to add to your rotation in the days to come.
Every professional chef has been there at some point, in dire need of a finishing touch to pop a salad or brighten a main dish. We reach out for old reliable, that orbicular bundle of radishes living in the walk-in we half forgot about. A few mandolin slices later and there it is: The most perfectly uninspired garnish in existence brought to bear.
But to resign the radish to a fate so ignoble would be a real disservice to the robust root; after all, the ancient Greeks presented idols of golden radishes as offerings to the god Apollo. Surely we can do better than sliced circles wilting slowly over salad.
Known for its characteristic pungent, peppery taste, the ubiquitous red globe radish packs a nutritional punch. Loaded with vitamins and minerals such as calcium, potassium and vitamin C, radishes are a good source of natural nitrates that are said to improve overall blood flow, lower blood pressure and even reduce your risk of heart disease.
In spite of all that, radishes were never a favorite growing up. The zestiness can be overbearing to the point of distracting. Like a jangly Fender Telecaster set too high in the mix, the spice notes left little room for the other instruments to play. As an ignorant adolescent, Pat confidently proclaimed there was no dish made better by the involvement of radishes.
That all changed when Pat experienced the wonders of the roasted radish for the first time. Maybe it was because he grew up eating mostly Asian food, but he didn’t even know that roasting radishes was something you could do. It felt like breaking some unspoken rule of cooking to use the radish as anything but a boring salad topper.
Gone was the ever-present spice that featured the root vegetable’s raw form. In its stead a sweet, mellow, grape-like morsel with a lingering hint of cracked pepper. Now this was an ingredient to build around.
Salt. Pepper. olive oil Heat. That’s really all you need to put out a serviceable offering of roasted radishes. Pair it with a hearty protein and you’ve got yourself dinner.
But that’s not what we do here at Living on the Veg. Instead we celebrate the sidekick, and today our quest is to make a Batman out of our red, globed Robins.
So let’s set off on a culinary journey to bring the roasted radish from the chorus line into the spotlight, to craft a dish thats the complex flavors of the simple root. For this, we must begin at the, well, beginning.
The radish has been a staple in western society for a long time, but it draws its origin from the farmlands of ancient China. Over time, the radish gradually made its way west, embedding itself in the cuisines of Egypt, Greece and Rome before conquering Europe in the 16th century.
A root vegetable in the cabbage family, there are four common radish grown varieties across North America today:
• Watermelon radish, known best for looking like a — you guessed it — watermelon.
• French breakfast radish, a slender, oblong radish with a milder flavour.
• White daikon, which can be found in every Asian supermarket across the continent.
• Classic red globe radish.
While the white daikon has become a staple in Asian cuisine, the red globe radish has remained largely ignored in the Far East despite its local origins. That got us thinking: What would an Asian roasted radish dish even look like?
Today’s recipe is influenced by a classic Chinese dish known as the Wood Ear Salad, a personal favorite and a staple of the cuisine that is often overlooked due to its rubbery texture and presentation. The addition of the roasted radish imparts bold color and salinity to a dish that traditionally skews acidic.
The Roasted Radish Salad is a true marriage of East and West, a fun and easy dish sure to bring a seasonal pop to your next dinner, no garnish needed.
Roasted Radish Salad recipe
1½ cups Red Globe Radish (cut in half)
½ cup Chopped Celery (1 stick of celery)
7-9 pieces Dried Wood Ear Mushroom
½ cup English cucumber (sliced)
2 tbsp Olive Oil
1 tsp Salt
1 tsp Pepper
For the sesame chili dressing
1½ tbsp Sugar
1½ tbsp Black Vinegar
1½ tbsp Roasted Chili Oil (Lao Gan Ma or preferred brand)
2 cloves Minced Garlic
2 tbsp Soy Sauce
1 tbsp Sesame Oil
1 tsp Roasted Sesame Seeds
Wash and half radishes. Pat dry, then add to a medium-sized mixing bowl. Coat with olive oil, then season with salt and pepper. Mix well.
Lay out seasoned radishes on a baking sheet and roast in the oven at 420 F (or 215 C) for 30 minutes, turning once.
In a small pot, reconstitute the dried wood ear mushroom by soaking in warm water for approximately 10 minutes or until it softens and blooms. Then bring mushroom to a boil. Though this mushroom will be served cold, it cannot be eaten raw. Dry and set aside.
Peel the celery and cut into bite-sized half bâtonets. Do the same with the cucumber.
In a mixing bowl, add sugar, black vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, sesame seeds, minced garlic and roasted chili oil. Mix well.
Toss the mushroom, cucumber and celery in dressing and let sit for 10 minutes.
Plate the mixture, then add roasted radish on top, finish with a healthy drizzle of dressing.
1 serving (feel free to double or triple recipe as needed).
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