Eats Roots and Leaves: Radish Love

Sunday, October 28, 2012

You’ve surely met Raphanus sativas, otherwise known as a radish. A member of the Brassica family (like cabbage, kale and Brussels sprouts), the root is very low in calories but high in fiber, water, vitamin C, potassium, and other good things like sulfuraphane, an isothiocyanate with antioxidant capacity that has anti-cancer properties and does a body good. The leaves are also incredibly nutritious, especially when it comes to iron, calcium, beta-carotene, and yet more vitamin C. Even so, there’s a lot more to this humble little vegetable than perhaps you realize, so read on for a few little known radish facts and to learn why I’m such a fan.

The roots: more than one kind. Depending on where you shop, you may only be familiar with the common red globe radish. However, there are a startling number of varieties ranging from the spherical watermelon (below) to the elongated French above, alongside the globe radishes). Shape, size, and color vary accordingly and there are also subtle differences in texture, heat, and flavor. There’s a radish to suit every palate, really: some are hot, some are sweet, some are purple, some are pink. Take your pick! A delightful part of my farmers’ markets travels has been finding all kinds of different radish varieties that I’ve never seen at any supermarket, even those focused on produce. You simply can’t find many of these splendid vegetables anywhere but your local farms, and their unique properties make cooking challenging, exciting, and interesting. Also, tasty.

Don’t “Eat Roots, and Leave!”

The leaves: waste not, want not. A bunch of purple radishes I recently bought came with their gorgeous greens (right); you’ll note the leaves are much larger for this variety than for the French to match the respective radish root size. Unfortunately, supermarket radishes usually don’t come with their greens still attached. I don’t know why this is, or where the greens go. My guess is they get discarded, as does so much food. This is tragic given the staggering amount of food waste in the world: in the US, for example, about 40% of food is wasted, to the tune of $165B. And, like so much food that is thrown out, radish greens are perfectly edible and delicious. The leaves of the radish plant can be used in salads, braising, or sautéing, like other leafy greens. In fact, the reason I employ radish greens in so many of my dishes is because I often have the roots hanging around for use in salads. So, I’ll often sauté them with EVOO and garlic and use them in a stir fry, soup, omelet, or whatever I’m making. I’ll share a few other fun uses of radish roots and leaves this coming week. (Update: see my French radish crostini here.) Perhaps you’ll get as excited about this vegetable as I am!

If all of this is a moot point because you’re never before seen radish greens where you live, at least it now makes more sense to you why a number of my recipes include them (e.g., roasted vegetable terrine) rather than, say, spinach. Further, taking a moment to think about food waste and the changes you might make to your own behavior to do your part is always good, too, whether radish-related or not. For cooking, purposes, you can always use whatever leafy green you like in your dishes, I just love being able to use the entire radish plant when I buy it. Makes me happy.

Radishes appear to make Mexicans happy, too: according to Wikipedia, citizens of Oaxaca celebrate the plant in a festival called Noche de los Rábanos (Night of the Radishes). While Americans carve pumpkins into scary faces for display on October 31, Oaxacans sculpt radishes into religious and popular figures and display them in the town square on December 23.

Now that’s a fascinating radish fact.

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Dr. P.K. Newby is a nutrition scientist, speaker, and author with expertise in all things food, farm to fork, whether preventing obesity and other chronic diseases through diet or teaching planet-conscious eating. As a health expert and food personality, she brings together her passions for food, cooking, science, and sustainability to educate and inspire, helping people eat their way towards better health, one delectable bite at a time. Because healthy food shouldn’t suck.

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