Spring is in full fling now, and that probably means your local farmers markets are open and filled with the first local produce. Here on the Westcoast of Canada, the growing season is a couple weeks behind, but while the weather feels like mid summer these days, its still just the beginning. One of the colourful things in the markets right now, along with all the green, is radishes. These seemingly ubiquitous red orbs are taken for granted as that crunchy bit of red in a common green salad, or thrown onto a veggie and dip platter at endless BBQ's. Why is that we forget how beautiful this vegetable is. Crunchy, juicy, peppery and beautiful to look at, it has everything we want in a vegetable and I find myself feeling like a bit of crusader for these beauties. Stop, now and reflect upon Les Radis!
I started to really appreciate radishes when in France during spring. The French Breakfast radish is the radish of choice there and my personal favourite. Markets were bursting with abundant displays of this most glorious root. We ate them on picnics with butter, baguettes and cheese, and some special occasion sea salt- the perfect way to enjoy them.
French Breakfast radishes are an elongated variety with magenta tops and white tips- slender and elegant. They tend to have shorter, more tender leaves, perfect for nibbling along with the vegetable. No need to completely de-stem these. In fact the leaves of these can be used in soups, salad and even pesto. Their mild pepperiness is pleasing, with a sweetness and a balance of juicy and crunch. No other raw vegetable looks as striking on a platter and their slender shape facilitates dipping. And did you know you can cook radishes? A quick turn in the pan with a little stock and olive oil, their flavour mellows and softens.
Why French Breakfast? Well, that's one of those culinary mysteries that there doesn't seem to be a definitive answer. I don't think anytime in recent history have they been part of petit dejeuner, but if you are a francophile like me, its seems like a lovely name for a vegetable.
Since they are abundant at this time of year and really at their best, I advise picking up at least a couple bunches a week. When summer starts to heat up, radishes seem stronger, less delicate and start to lose their light crunch. They keep beautifully when treated with care. Here's what I do: give them a good wash, then soak them in barely cold water, which allows the cells to absorb the water easier, for about 30 minutes, drain, and store in a container in the fridge. Treated this way they are ready for snacking and will keep for a couple weeks.
My favourite way to serve them:
- Alongside a plate of cured meats.
- Raw and dipped in fleur de sel
- With a favourite loaf of bread and some tasty butter.
- On top of ricotta or cream cheese crostini sprinkled with chives.