Winter Radishes

Winter radishes have been a surprise treat in this season’s kitchen garden, just the colorful boost these darker months need.  Back in April, in her weekly Washington Post gardening column, Barbara Damrosch wrote about these large storage radishes, specifically her favorite Beauty Heart, and advised waiting until late summer to plant them.  I took her advice and I’m glad I did. On August 23rd I planted a ten-foot row of a winter storage variety called Red Meat, similar to Beauty Heart but not so appealingly named, thinned seedlings to four inches apart a few weeks later, and we’ve been enjoying them since November.

Radishes watermelon on board

Familiar, quick-growing spring radishes are typically red on the outside, white on the inside and smaller than a golf ball while slower-growing winter storage radishes like Red Meat and Beauty Heart are white to light green on the outside, dark pink/red on the inside and often as big or bigger than a tennis ball.  Their unexpectedly gorgeous red centers explain their other common name: watermelon radish.  Like spring radishes, winter storage radishes are deliciously crisp but Red Meat is milder than a spicy spring radish, tasting almost sweet.  Winter storage radishes also hold much longer in the kitchen garden than spring radishes do.  Mulched, they survived December temperatures in the low teens and those remaining in the row are still fine.  I’ve also kept some in the refrigerator for a few weeks at a time and they’ve stayed firm and tasty as well.

The Kitazawa Seed Company describes one of their watermelon radish varieties as “the most popular variety grown in the middle and northern parts of China,” adding that “because of their color, they are the perfect radishes to carve into flower shapes as garnish.” I haven’t done any radish carving but we’ve certainly enjoyed the dramatic color and crisp, mild spiciness of these winter radishes in salads.  And I’ve been experimenting with other ways to eat them.

Radish salad w: dressing

Radish grilled in salad

A few weeks ago, I cut a several into chunks and roasted them along with some other winter roots.  Their color faded a bit but they added a lovely mild turnip flavor to the mix of stronger-flavored roots.  The other night, inspired by a recipe for grilled spring radishes, I sliced a large Red Meat radish into quarter-inch rounds and Scott grilled them along with some pork chops.  The slightly charred edges and smoky radish flavor were wonderful.  This technique is definitely one to try again, perhaps with the rosemary brown butter dipping sauce from this recipe.  Red Meat radishes are also pretty additions to appetizer plates, cut either in rounds or strips.  And for lunch, thin slices of these big radishes are delicious with hazelnut butter on whole wheat bread.

Radish sandwich

I have enough seeds of Red Meat for the coming year but to expand my winter radish options I’ve ordered seeds of Green Meat and Round Black Spanish.  According to the Fedco catalog descriptions, Green Meat has a “distinct green-apple flavor” and Round Black Spanish has “extremely pungent white flesh.”  When I run out of Red Meat seeds, I’ll order Misato Rose, another Fedco offering “also known as Chinese Red Heart radish, described in its native land as xin li mei, meaning ‘in one’s heart beautiful.’” I can imagine a winter radish tasting next year, maybe followed by a mixed radish salad.  And more cooking experiments, like pickling.  In the meantime, we’ll enjoy the remaining winter radishes. I just wish I’d planted a longer row.