Though often relegated to accompaniment status, the radish is no wallflower. (Well, it is, sort of—botanically, both radishes and wallflowers are members of the Brassicaceae family.) Among spring’s first offerings, the plant’s sometimes sweet, sometimes spicy, hot, peppery and sometimes bitter swollen roots (the part this is usually eaten) make themselves known in any presentation.
Radishes were once so popular in this country that they were a staple of every meal. “I can recall many old Pennsylvania Dutch relatives who lamented the fact that people had stopped serving radishes for breakfast,” wrote food historian William Woys Weaver in his 1997 classic, Heirloom Vegetable Gardening (revised and updated in a new 2018 edition), “A glance at seed lists from the 19th century would certainly support this, for there were radishes for every imaginable culinary situation.”
Radishes seem to be experiencing a resurgence, and more varieties—many of them heirloom—are making their way onto our tables.
Walter Hinds, executive chef of The Roundhouse in Beacon, says he’s always on the lookout for different textures and flavors. “Radishes range from the spicy (think Purple Ninja) to the sweet and crunchy Watermelon,” he says. “We do a refreshing plate here that features a variety of colorful radishes. We pair them with our Red Goddess dressing—our take on the more familiar Green Goddess sauce. Ours features roasted red peppers and garlic for a unique extra punch of flavor. It’s a great opener before indulging in one of our heartier entrees.”
“I love the classic red Cherry Belle radish. They are beautiful to look at—bright red and round— and they have some of my favorite veggie characteristics: They’re spicy, crunchy and they ferment like champs,” says Ric Orlando, owner of New World Bistro in Albany and former chef/owner of New World Home cooking in Saugerties. “I also love daikon radish—I do a lot of fermenting and they create the best stink! All of the other beautiful varieties available at the farm stands—Watermelon, French Breakfast, Sparklers—they are all fun, but at the end of the day, the red Cherry Belle is my favorite for salad and braising.”
“Radishes are awesome,” agrees Constantine Kalandranis, chef and proprietor of 8 North Broadway in Nyack and 273 Kitchen in Harrison. “It is funny how we all crave a texture even more than a flavor. Some radishes, like French Breakfast, are exciting with very little spice; others like Black or Watermelon, have texture (but) surprise (you with) spice notes.” One of the easiest and fastest vegetables for home gardeners to grow, radishes thrive in the Hudson Valley’s cool spring weather, though seeds also can be found for varieties that withstand hotter temperatures.
8 North Broadway
8 N. Broadway, Nyack
(845) 353-1200; 8northbroadway.com
273 Halstead Ave, Harrison
(914) 732-3333; 273kitchen.com
New World Bistro Bar
300 Delaware Ave, Albany
(518) 694-0520; newworldbistrobar.com
2 E Main St, Beacon
(845) 765-8369; roundhousebeacon.com