Raphanus sativus, radish (from the Latin word “radix”, meaning root), specifically the winter radish, is sure to spice up your cold weather recipes.
Although the radish’s origin isn’t exact, it has a heated history. Ancient literary and archeological evidence points to China as this spicy root’s origin. However, given the diversity of types, some believe radishes were first cultivated between the Mediterranean and Caspian Sea. This could explain the differences between winter and spring radishes. While spring radishes trace back to European cultivation, winter radishes have Asian lineages. The Black Spanish radish, a winter variety, is the exception, originating from what is now Syria.
Radishes were valuable seed crops in Egypt 4000 years ago. Roots and leaves were consumed; seeds were put inside Egyptian tombs. Roots may even have been used for currency, along with garlic and onions.
One of the first European crops introduced to the US via Mexico in the early 1500s, radishes were valued for hardiness and storability. They were essential to the colonists’ winter survival and served as valuable fodder crops for livestock.
Why sow winter radishes?
In China, sweet winter radishes are prized as fruit substitutes – two varieties are the green-tipped Shawo that sweetens after frost exposure, and Red Beauty. Winter radishes have many attributes beyond their spring cousins, including expanding varieties and extending the season to enjoy them. Properly stored, winter radishes can keep for months in the fridge, or in the ground if winters are mild, until a ravenous gardener gleans them from garden to the table…unless indulging before they get there! Sweet and mild winter radishes are delicious. They spice up salads, add texture and zest to soups. Enjoy them sautéed, stir fried or roasted, grilled to a caramelized sweetness, pickled, or dried.
Looking for “clearing your sinuses” heat? Substitute Japanese wasabi radishes for wasabi roots. They’re also way easier to grow. Radish roots and leaves offer rich sources of ascorbic acid, folic acid, vitamin B6, riboflavin, magnesium, copper and calcium.
Need a plant companion? Cucumbers, carrots, chervil, chives, cilantro, dill, lettuce, nasturtiums, pumpkins, turnips and peas love radishes for neighbors. (However, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, spinach, summer savory and grape hyssop hate them.)
Winter varieties also come in a wide range of large shapes, from baseball sized to 60-pound sluggers! In 1921, the Oriental Seed Company of San Francisco catalog boasted a single Sakurajima could feed a family of 5!
Winter radishes are best sown in mid-August to early September, ½” deep with rows 6-8” apart, in moderately fertile soil. Use lightly amended soil with well-rotted compost, as too much makes for too many leaves and stunted roots. After covering the seeds, lightly tamp down and generously moisten. Expect sprouting in a week or less. Once sprouted, thin seedlings to 6-8” apart. The key to success is to keep them consistently moist and weeded. Winter radishes can take up to two months to be ready for harvesting, but winter in the ground until ready to use. They’re easily tugged from moistened, not dry, soil.
Interesting Fact: Every December 23, thousands attend Mexico’s annual unique and whimsical “La Noche de Rabanos” or “Night of the Radishes Festival.” Amateur and professional artists carve radishes into myriads of shapes, including wildlife, people and architecture. Displays of the nativity scene pay tribute as well showcasing the winter radish as a “true work of art.”
So, make a Radishcal choice! Spice it up with some winter-sown radishes.
Roasted Winter Radishes
Preheat oven to 425° F.
Line a low sided baking pan with heavy foil.
6-8 winter radishes (Red Meat, Black Spanish)
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced fine or pressed
¼ teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary minced
1 tablespoon honey or agave nectar
1/3 cup fresh grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Trader Joes Quatro Formaggio
Slice off tips and tops from radishes. Cut each into 8 wedges. Place radish wedges in a zip-type bag with olive oil, garlic, rosemary and salt. Close bag and turn over several times until the wedges are coated. Place wedges on a baking pan and bake for about 40 minutes until golden. Remove from oven to a heat proof bowl. Add cheese and honey. Toss until coated. Serve hot. Makes about 6 servings as a side dish.
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
They have Round Black Spanish; Chinese Shawg Fruit; Chinese Red Meat; Sakurajima Giant, Japanese Wasabi and Japanese Daikon.