Spice up bleak midwinter with colorful radishes

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We’re still a few months away from the cheerful little radishes of spring, but right now you can find their hardier, spicy siblings in markets.

Winter radishes vary in size, color and flavor, but they tend to be bigger and even more colorful—at least in personality—than the better-known spring varieties. They add zest to a winter escarole salad and crunch to sushi; they take well to pickling and light sautéing; and they’re so appealing, even small children will eat them.

Farmer Cory Mosser demonstrated this to me last Saturday at Peachtree Road Farmers Market, when he handed his 3-year-old daughter Audrey, curled up in a plastic vegetable bin behind the table, a thin slice of sweet, pink watermelon radish. Clutching half a giant cookie in her left hand, she reached for the radish with her right and  popped it into her mouth. Then she went back to the cookie.

“That’s a way I can get people who might not try a radish,” says Mosser, who farms at Burge Organic Farm in Mansfield. “They think, ‘Well, a 3-year-old can do it … ‘”

Winter radishes get their name for the same reason that winter squashes get theirs: Although planted in the summer and harvested throughout the fall, they store well all winter long. One of the more common winter radishes is daikon, a long, white radish familiar to anyone who’s ever read a sushi menu. The most glamorous are the watermelon and beauty heart radishes (Mosser grows a variety called mantanghong), which, when sliced crosswise, exposes a bright pink center which diffuses to white toward the edge with green shoulders. Other varieties include black Spanish (a rough, black exterior with hot-white flesh), green luobo (oblong with green flesh), China rose (red on the outside, white on the inside), and hilds blauer (carrot-shaped and purple on the outside, white on the inside).

“I’m kind of weird—I kind of obsessively look for crazy winter radishes,” Mosser admits. “Maybe it’s partly the hunt. I’m looking for things that aren’t readily available and that not a lot of people know about,” he says. “It’s fun to try to grow new things, too.”

In a good week at the market, he can sell 30 pounds of winter radishes. He says he could probably sell more if he marketed them exclusively to restaurants—but that wouldn’t be as much fun. “I kind of like being able to expose people to something that’s new, and then they come back and bring their friends the next time.”

Mosser will be selling his crazy radishes this Saturday at the last Peachtree Road Farmers (and Holiday Artists) Market of the season. He’s also offering an occasional winter CSA that will certainly include winter radishes, along with eight or nine other cool-season produce items. You can sign up  to be notified by e-mail when the next box is ready; you decide on a box-by-box basis whether to buy. You’re also likely to find winter radishes at the year-round Morningside and Decatur farmers markets.

> For a simple salad, toss thin slices of winter radish with rice vinegar and sesame oil, then sprinkle with salt and toasted sesame seeds.

 

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