Don’t you just love it when someone tells you, “Oh, it’s so easy to grow, even a child can do it!” And then you try growing the darn thing and feel really silly when it fails. Take radishes. True, the fat seeds are easy for kids to handle and stick in the ground. And true, radishes grow really fast, so there’s the whole instant gratification thing. But listen, I’ve had good radishes and I’ve had bad radishes. So to spare you any disappointment, I’m passing along the few secrets I’ve learned about growing these seductive beauties – and about using them (deliciously) in the kitchen.  

The Ideal Radish-Growing Scenario

It’s early to mid-spring and the soil temperature has warmed to 45 degrees. Honestly, it doesn’t need to be warmer than that, and around the time this magazine lands in your hands, the soil here on the Vineyard will be plenty warm enough for planting radishes. (Don’t wait! Radishes turn bitter and pithy in the summer heat.) You have a lovely bed of tilled soil that’s as fluffy and friable as a crumbled brownie. You plant your first row of seeds, holding some back to plant next week for a staggered harvest.  

Next, you have a good run of many cool, sunny days in a row with occasional rain showers (or hose showers) that keep your radish bed moist (no drying out, please), but not sopping. And in your perfect world, you have a nice cozy piece of fabric row cover tucked over your radish bed to keep out early cabbage pests that can gnaw at roots. (This isn’t pretty, I promise – the holes, I mean.) Remember, too, to rotate radishes and other cabbage crops to new locations every year. Also avoid planting in a new bed that recently had lawn cover; grubs will be hanging around. 

Radishes like it cool and moist, loose and fast. Plant them now and you’ll have gorgeous veggies in twenty-five to thirty days. Choose a reliable red globe variety like Cherry Belle for consistently bodacious roots.

Radishes in the Kitchen: The Revolution

One of the biggest trends in vegetable cooking right now is using the whole vegetable (carrot tops, fennel fronds, etc.). Radishes fit the bill since the entire plant is edible, even the flowers. The leaves are delicious; wilt them in a hot pan with garlic or ginger and add to quesadillas, omelets, frittatas, and grain dishes. Slice them thinly for stir-fries and soups. Use them raw,
slivered, and well-dressed in slaws or hearty salads.

The roots are delicious roasted: cut in wedges, toss in olive oil and sea salt, spread on a baking sheet, and cook at 425 degrees for twenty to twenty-five minutes. Drizzle with honey and a squeeze of lemon. Or sauté in butter with scallions and finish with orange zest and juice.

To use radishes raw, think beyond green salads. Radishes are a great foil for creamy dressings, like those in potato salads, lobster salads, and cucumber salads. Sliced radishes make terrific quick pickles, marinated in lemon or lime juice with a touch of sugar or honey. They’re a delicious crunchy addition to fruit salsas or chunky vinaigrettes. And radishes can be the star of a dish, rather than the sidekick.

You see, radishes don’t have to be an afterthought – in the kitchen or in the garden. You’ll enjoy them more if you show them a little respect!

The following recipe was originally published with this article, Spring Radish and Fresh Herb Salad with Lime-Maple Dressing.