Forgotten vegetables : the black radish

In our series featuring forgotten vegetables, introducing a dash of variety into the kitchen for the last few chilly winter days, we move onto the black radish, the lesser-known radish with its unique charcoal exterior and crunchy, peppery taste.

Forgotten vegetables : the black radish

Black radish by La Grenouillère, France © Marie-Pierre Morel

In our series featuring forgotten vegetables, introducing a dash of variety into the kitchen for the last few chilly winter days, we move onto the black radish, the lesser-known radish with its unique charcoal exterior and crunchy, peppery taste.

DON’T JUDGE A VEGETABLE BY ITS COVER

Isabel Allende encouraged us to, “Write what should not be forgotten.” In our latest series, we invite you to cook what should not be forgotten. Turn back to those heirloom plants that have been neglected: they aren’t as easy on the eye as their more widely-used counterparts, but they are full of their own unique flavors and stories...

THE ENDANGERED EDIBLE

The black radish is to the vegetable world what the buffalo is to Africa’s Big 5. It is not picturesque.

The color of charcoal on the outside and the texture of, well, an old buffalo’s horn, it has a dense, fibrous flesh with a pungent flavor that earned it the nickname, raifort des Parisiens – Parisians’ horseradish.

Black radishes were popular among the medieval folk – on account of their hardy natures (the radishes, but perhaps the people too). No matter the climate or time of year, these bulbs flourished and stored well throughout the winter months of the Middle Ages.

As with many other former staples, the last century saw the black radish ousted by crops that were easier to market and ship, such as potatoes, carrots and the black radish’s prettier cousins, which were easier to peel and use and boasted more colorful, less rugged exteriors. For instance, the common bright red, round Cherry Belle radish, the elegant, slightly pungent French breakfast radish, and slender white daikon radish that is popular in Asia.

 

“In ancient Egypt, they were considered sacred.”

THE LESSER KNOWN VALUE OF THE BLACK RADISH

The back radish may seem to have been ‘forgotten’ for a reason, but this bulb has several redeeming features that make it worthy of adding to any winter menu.

1. Many love the black radish’s crunch and peppery taste. The Tudors of the British Monarchy included, according to The Telegraph.

2. They are packed with nutrients, including vitamin C, potassium, sulphur, fiber and B vitamins.

3. Black radishes grow larger than most radishes and are actually rather attractive – inside at least, with a nearly translucent white center that boasts a pattern resembling the sun’s rays. The contrast between this center and the dark exterior makes it an intriguing addition when it comes to plating dishes.

4. In ancient Egypt, they were considered sacred and were often used with garlic as a treatment for just about any bug. Even today they are commonly used as a remedy for respiratory problems. Mixed with honey, they create an excellent cough syrup.

5. In Ayurvedic medicine, they are considered to promote digestive health, detoxify the liver, boost the immune system and fight aging.

 

HOW TO COOK IT LIKE A RELAIS & CHÂTEAUX CHEF?

Tasty they can indeed be… it all comes down to how you prepare it. You can roast them, pickle them, mash them with sour cream or cream cheese, slice them thinly and sprinkle with sea salt, olive oil and cracked pepper for a fresh vegetable carpaccio, and grate them raw over salads.

- La Grenouillère, under the starred Chef Alexandre Gauthier, one of France's most inventive chefs, creates an entrée that includes raw scallops, beaten egg whites and ribbons of black radish, drizzled with a little grilled peanut oil.

- William Bradley, executive chef at Addison Restaurant in San Diego, and French-born Claude Bosi, chef-owner of the two Michelin-starred London restaurant Hibiscus, collaborated in an eight-course collaboration dinner. On the menu was scallop with black radish and truffle.

- Le Hatley Restaurant at Manoir Hovey’s Chevreau with pine, field peas, turnip, black radish, mint and blue stalk mushroom.

- The Magdalena restaurant at The Ivy Hotel in Baltimore’s salad of cured fluke and local crab includes tiny strips of cured fluke and small mounds of crabmeat under radish slices, with dabs of slow-burning black radish kimchi.

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