Friday, December 5, 2014

Featured Vegetable: Daikon and Beauty Heart Radishes

By Sarah Janes Ugoretz

There are two kinds of radishes—the quick growing, spring varieties, and the slower-to-mature winter varieties. As winter varieties, daikon and beauty heart radishes share the spotlight for our vegetable feature this week. Members of the mustard family, radishes were first domesticated in the Mediterranean during pre-Roman times. By 500 B.C., traders had carried them first to China and shortly thereafter to Japan where cultivation quickly became widespread. Early on, radishes were most commonly grown for their seeds, which were pressed into oil. Despite the multitude of varieties, all radishes share certain characteristics—a crunchy texture, with a unique sharp bite and a varying degree of pungency. They are rich in vitamins C and B, are an excellent source of potassium, calcium and iron, and are often utilized as a digestive aid, detoxifier and blood cleanser.

Winter radishes are, you might have guessed, built for storage. In order to preserve their quality, however, be sure to keep them sealed in plastic bags in the refrigerator. Preventing moisture loss is key to maintaining freshness! If stored properly, daikon will store for several weeks and beauty heart radishes will store for several months. Don’t let a little browning on the surface fool you. This is a normal development with extended storage, but the radish is still good on the inside.

Daikon radishes
Daikon radishes, commonly referred to as Japanese horseradish or mooli, are rather easy to identify. A staple in Asian cuisine, daikon radishes are much milder than the traditional red radish. Their crisp, juicy texture is complemented by a sweet, slightly peppery bite. Interestingly enough, the thickest part of the root is the mildest, with pungency increasing as the root narrows. Although the typical daikon will measure between 15-20 inches in length, certain varieties can grow to be 36 inches long!

Beauty heart radishes
Beauty heart radishes, on the other hand, look more like a storage turnip than anything. Their pale, cream-colored exterior hides a rather stunning interior, however, the flesh exploding with unique patterns of fuchsia, white, and green. It’s no surprise then that their Chinese name, Xin Li Mei, literally translates to “heart inside beautiful.” At the Harmony Valley Farm market stand, the crew continually encourages patrons to give beauty hearts a try. They are, as we say, “the radish for non-radish lovers.” I like to think of these beauty hearts as a gateway variety—one taste of this mild, slightly sweet radish and you’ll be whisked away into a glorious world filled with tens upon tens of radish varieties! Well, maybe that’s wishful thinking, but these radishes are most certainly a culinary treasure.

Daikon radish is most often used raw and is often pickled. It can be used as a condiment to eat on sandwiches, alongside vegetarian rice dishes, or to accompany grilled or roasted meats. It is also a common ingredient in kim chi.

Beauty heart radishes can be eaten raw or cooked. They are a beautiful addition to winter vegetable slaws or can be the feature of a winter radish salad. We also enjoy them on winter crudité platters served with creamy dip or sliced cheese or slice thinly and put them on a sandwich for a little crunch. They also make a nice addition to stir-fry and are a great vegetable to add to simple soups such as miso or hot & sour soup.

If you are looking for recipe ideas, go to our searchable recipe database on our website and use the search terms “daikon radish” & “beauty heart radish.” You can also look to the Local Thyme online CSA recipe service for more ideas. See our weekly email for sign up instructions.

Hot & Sour Soup
This is a recipe sent to us by CSA members who adapted a recipe for Hot & Sour soup to incorporate beauty heart radishes. The original recipe came from The Meatless Gourmet by Bobbie Hinman (now under the title The Vegetarian Gourmet’s Easy International Recipes). 

Yield: 4 servings (1 cup each)
¼ cup water
2 Tbsp cornstarch
4 cups vegetable broth (4 cups water + a veggie bouillon)
1 large carrot, coarsely shredded
1 cup beauty heart radish, coarsely shredded
1 Tbsp sherry
4 ounces firm tofu, sliced, then cut into small rectangles
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1½ Tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
½ tsp pepper (white or black)
2 green onions, thinly sliced (may substitute minced red onion)

1. In a small bowl, combine water and cornstarch. Stir to dissolve cornstarch. Set aside.

2. In a medium saucepan, combine broth, carrot, beauty heart and sherry. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer 5 minutes.

3. Add tofu, vinegar and soy sauce. Increase heat to medium and when mixture boils again, cook uncovered, 3 minutes. Stir cornstarch mixture and add to saucepan while stirring. Continue to cook and stir for 2 more minutes. Remove from heat and stir in sesame oil and pepper. Garnish with onions.

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