Radical radishes

Crisp: Find radishes at your local farmers market right now, along with lettuces and other salad fixings. Photo courtesy of ASAP.

Radishes get a bad rep. But, they get their name from the Latin word radix, related to the word radical. The crisp root is much more than a medium for culinary students to practice their veggie-carving prowess. Prepared correctly, they pack a big flavor punch — and they’re even more versatile than you think.

Radishes and their greens can be eaten and prepared in numerous ways: raw, braised, stir-fried, pickled, you name it. Raw and salted, they’re perfect with a pint. When cooked, their flavor transforms, becoming more like that of a turnip. 

While William Dissen, executive chef and owner of The Market Place in downtown Asheville, values their versatility, he likes to eat and serve radishes pretty much as they come. “I think they’re meant to be enjoyed raw, when they’re sweet and crunchy yet a tad bitter all at the same time,” he says. The Market Place’s menu currently uses local radishes from five area farmers, featuring them as a complement to seafood, shaved paper-thin and served with local petite greens.

That doesn’t mean he thinks they always have to be eaten plain. Dissen says that his favorite way to enjoy radishes are with fresh-churned butter and sea salt, a French tradition. He opts for the French variety, d’Avignon. You can find them at area tailgate markets by looking for a root with a slender shape and a white tip that tapers to a point. Radish traditions abound in other European countries. Germans, for example, prize the Munchener Bier variety, served in thin slices with a little salt as a favorite beer-hall snack.

You’ll find many varieties from lots of growers at farmers tailgate markets, grocery stores and co-ops now. Making a salad? Be sure to pick up local lettuce, which also abounds at farmers markets during May, ASAP’s Get Local lettuces month.

Browse the 300-plus farms and businesses offering radishes in ASAP’s online Local Food Guide: http://www.buyappalachian.org. There you can also find a listing of area tailgate markets. Or, head on over to ASAP’s community website at http://www.fromhere.org for an online farmers market calendar.

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