I am most familiar with the red radish, which I grow in my garden. If you want to introduce your children to the miracle of turning a seed into something on your dining room table (a.k.a. gardening), the red radish is your answer. It grows quickly in mediocre soil and is usually the first thing I pick from my garden each spring. Just don’t let them plop one in their mouths, or they may never want to garden again.
Alas, the red radish has very little energy value, but it is high in vitamin C compared to other root vegetables. It does perk up a salad or coleslaw, not only with its peppery, pungent flavor, but also with its bright, Christmas red color. The leaves are also edible and have more nutrients than the vegetable itself. That makes it a great little filler when you are low on salad greens. Soak the leaves and radishes in ice water to make them crisp before serving. Another reason to include radishes in your salad is for its crunchy texture.
Both the red radish and the horseradish are members of the mustard family, which explains their spicy flavor. Because of this bite, a little goes a long way. They are the small and tall of radishes. The horseradish can be five feet in height, while the red radish is the height of most ground cover. The root of the horseradish is bland until you grate it, which releases its pungent mustard oil. Mix it quickly with vinegar or it will lose its bite, darken and become bitter. It is best to use roots soon after you pick them or get them from the grocery store. Horseradish leaves are also edible, unless you are a horse, in which case it is poisonous. But I digress.
Vinegar and lemon juice complement horseradish by adding a sour flavor to it. Vinegar acts as a preservative and keeps the root from loosing flavor. If your jar of prepared horseradish has darkened from its original creamy white color, it is time to replenish it. Cream or mayonnaise improves the taste of horseradish by adding sweetness. Thus, it is often found in the form of a relish, but you may buy the light yellow roots as fresh produce. Fresh is better than dried. Add ¾ teaspoon of salt and 2/3 of a cup of white vinegar for every 1½ cups of grated horseradish root. You’ll like it better than the prepared stuff.
Horseradish is often associated with seafood, roast beef and cocktail sauces. It is also great with cream cheese in dips and with hard-boiled eggs. As with many salad fixings, you don’t have to cook radishes. A little known fact is that southwestern Illinois grows about 85% of the world’s horseradish market.
In Japan horseradish is often dyed green and served as a substitute for the more expensive wasabi radish. Daikon is also a radish used mostly in Japan. It looks like a white carrot and is peeled like one. It is often pickled in soy sauce and sugar.
This is probably more than you ever wanted to know about radishes. All in all they are easy to grow, colorful, spicy, crunchy and full of vitamin C with edible leaves. What else do you need to know?