Root for radishes

Nov. 02, 2013 @ 10:51 AM

Recently, a few friends have asked, “Is there even much produce available at the market right now?”

Yes!

We have a beautiful variety of fall harvest vegetables at the South Durham Farmers’ Market, and if you are reeling from your Halloween sugar rush, get your diet back on track with farm fresh vegetables, including the eye-catching radish.

The radish grows quickly without being too picky about circumstances. Their hardiness is the likely reason for the peppery orb’s cultivation since ancient times. Radishes originated in China and spread to Japan, which now dedicates more land to growing daikon radishes than any other vegetable. Radishes were even in Egypt before the pyramids, and the Greeks offered platters of gold bearing the root to the god Apollo.

Europeans brought their radishes with them to the Americas, and today we have a dozen varieties of radishes being grown in North Carolina: Cherry Belle, Sparkler White Tip, April Cross, and Long Black Spanish, to name a few.

Our farmers love growing radishes for a variety of reasons. The density of the root helps to break up the soil and aerate the ground, and they are excellent companion plants, since their leaves attract common pests while the root is left alone. Not to mention, they are ready for market in just three to four weeks. And, thanks to our mild winters, market shoppers can expect to find flawless bunches of radishes until Christmas.

The radish is a great addition to dressed greens, both for crunch and color, but it is much more than salad fodder. Borrow from Japanese cuisine with shaved radishes, plenty of salt, vinegar and mix in shaved local carrots. Serve up a new twist on shish kebabs by skewering alternating cubes of lamb from the market with small radishes and then garnish with mint sauce. You can even top off your vegetable soups and specialty pizzas with matchstick slices of radishes.

Moreover, if you missed out on making a jack-o’-lantern for Halloween, you have a second chance at vegetable carving this year. For over a century, Oaxaca has hosted the Night of the Radishes.  Every December 23rd, artisans travel to the city to unveil elaborate radish sculptures at market. And while we won’t have the same six pound behemoth varieties used in Oaxaca at our market, we will have plenty of perfectly crisp radishes for eating, and, if you like, carving for weeks to come.

Elizabeth Zander is market manager of the South Durham Farmers' Market Manager.