Radishes are on the menu this month. They have a fascinating history and an interesting role in world cuisine.
A Short History of the Radish
Eating radishes dates back to the building of the ancient pyramids of Egypt. There, laborers were paid with vegetables including radishes. After they were introduced in Asia in 500 B.C., they were one of the first vegetables to be domesticated. The Chinese are credited with developing new varieties, from the small spherical types like the Easter egg and cherry ball varieties to the two-plus pound type known as the daikon radish. While they are generally an under-appreciated crop, they are used all over the globe and even celebrated annually at a festival in Oaxaca, Mexico known as “Noche de Rabanos,” or “The Night of the Radishes.”
How to Eat Radishes
Radishes are typically consumed raw, sliced thinly in salads, or used as a topping, such as on tacos. For something more interesting we look to their use in Korea, where they are a vital part of the dietary staple kimchi. Kimchi is a ubiquitous part of the Korean food culture. Average consumption of kimchi is 40 lbs per person each year! It is served as a condiment alongside a meal, or as a side dish. Kimchi can even be used as an ingredient in cooked dishes. It’s known for its characteristic pungent aroma and sweet and sour taste with a spicy kick.
In a traditional Kimchi, a Korean radish (daikon) is sliced or chopped into matchsticks and combined with sliced Napa cabbage, spices including Korean red pepper (kochukaru), scallions, garlic, ginger, and fish sauce. This combination is then fermented, which increases the nutritional value by making it a good source of probiotics and beneficial enzymes. Fermenting also increases the content of nutrients, such as B vitamins.
This Month’s Recipe!
Speaking of interesting ways to prepare radishes – this month’s recipe is a creative departure from the more “normal” radish preparations. In kimchi, the process of fermentation transforms the radish providing more flavor to the mild daikon radish.
In this month’s recipe for roasted radishes with soy sauce and toasted sesame seeds, the radishes are cooked which also alters their flavor and texture. Radishes, which often have a peppery bite, become milder when cooked. They go from crisp and crunchy to tender and juicy. When tossed in sesame oil, soy sauce and sliced scallions as called for in the recipe, they really shine in a unique way with tons of flavor.
For more on radishes including recipes, interesting facts, and fun activities for kids, check out the Vermont Harvest of the Month website.
Roasted Radishes with Soy Sauce and Toasted Sesame Seeds
- 20medium radishes, trimmed and cut into fourths (use all red or a mixture of red and white)
- 1 1/2Tbsproasted peanut oil
- 1 1/2Tbspsoy sauce
- 1Tbspgreen onions (scallions), sliced thin
- 1Tbspsesame seeds, toasted in a dry pan
- Preheat oven to 425° F.
- Wash radishes, trim ends, peel if needed, and cut into same size pieces.
- Cut green onions into thin slices.
- Toss radishes with peanut oil, then roast for about 20 minutes, stirring one or two times. When radishes are tender and starting to brown, remove from oven.
- Toss with soy sauce to coat and mix in green onion slices. Put back in oven and roast about 5 more minute.
- During the final 5 minutes of roasting time, put the sesame seeds in a dry pan and toast over stove for about 2 minutes, or until staring to brown.
- Remove radishes from the oven, place in serving bowl and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds.
- Serve hot.
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Bridget Shea, RD, is a clinical dietitian at The University of Vermont Medical Center.