If you think you knew all about radishes, it’s time to think again. The sharp and snappy root vegetable is enjoying a bit of a renaissance, thanks to several new varieties that are cropping up on menus and Instagram feeds. Chief among these is the watermelon radish, an heirloom variety of the popular daikon, known as shinrimei in its native China. The “watermelon” sobriquet refers to its vivid red interior color, not its taste. You might also find watermelon radishes referred to as Beauty Heart, Roseheart or Chinese Red Meat radishes.
“In the United States, they really got their start at farmers’ markets, and they’ve trended up from there,” says Robert Schueller, Director of Public Relations at Melissa’s Produce. Schueller says that Melissa’s tries to locate and promote promising heirloom varieties, and that’s exactly what happened with watermelon radishes. “While they used to be a spring-only vegetable, now they’re commercially available year-round,” he says. “Their size can range from golf ball to baseball size, but they always have that red interior.”
Watermelon isn’t the only variety you might want to try when you’re looking to add crunch or color to winter menus. Check out black radishes, which have a dramatically dark exterior and a sharp bite. Another radish variety, the football-shaped Lo Bok, is a variety of daikon that’s crisp and juicy, with a sweet flavor and light-colored skin. And don’t overlook daikon, a white, mild-flavored Asian winter radish. “Remember, the larger the radish, the milder the flavor usually will be,” Schueller says.
How to use them
No matter what variety you’re choosing, radishes are a fairly inexpensive produce option. They keep very well and will last in the walk-in for a couple weeks. They’re a simple way to add taste and texture to any dish. You’ll find radishes being used in popular street food-inspired dishes like Korean rice bowls and Mexican tacos.
All radishes are great companions to citrus, love to be sprinkled with fresh herbs and salt, and will shine through fatty sauces, butter, yogurt and cream. While they’re often served raw, they’ll also take well to in-house pickling or fermenting. No matter how you use them, radishes can add a great pop of color (and spicy zip) in dark winter times.