I love radishes for their crisp texture and slight bite. Bring on Japanese daikon, Chinese luo buo, Korean moo, and one of my all-time favorites, the watermelon radish. It looks sad on the outside, mostly off white and often mottled, and resembles a turnip tinged with green at the shoulders and light pink at the root. But cut one open and the inner flesh is reddish and white, radiating toward the edge to become white and finishing as lime green. It’s a feast for your eyes. As for the flavor, watermelon radish has a marvelously sweet-bite, though it turns a bit bitter when growing conditions are hot. Watermelon radish is a Chinese heirloom variety that also goes by red meat radish, rose heart. In Mandarin, the radish is called shinrimei, which literally means “beauty in the heart.” (Note to Chinese speakers, the ‘shin’ is misspelled in English botanical terms, but it is really xin, meaning heart, as in dian xin/dim sum.)
Last week’s weather was cool so the watermelon radish that I picked up from Coke Farms at the farmer’s market were nicely sweet. Radishes are typically spring and winter crop but watermelon radishes can be cultivated year-round if the temperatures are moderate, like they are here in Santa Cruz.
Over the weekend, I tried out my Korean fried chicken on my Korean-American friend Linda Lim (she wholeheartedly approved) and served this little salad as a crunchy, tangy side note. (Typically, Korean cooks dress mildly sweet Korean mu radish with rice vinegar and sugar in a similar fashion.) A few days later, I pan-fried kimchi mandu dumplings and had the salad again as an accompaniment. I could have served the chilled garlic cucumbers but this milder radish preparation was the perfect refreshing contrast to the dumplings, which were somewhat intense as I used some older (read: stinky kimchi) for the filling. This is a great little side for any dumpling, not just Korean ones. And it’s easy to put together.
Serves 3 to 4 as a small side dish
3/4 pound watermelon radish or other mild-flavored radish
1/4 pound Japanese cucumber or a cucumber of your choice (e.g., English or Persian)
About 1 teaspoon unseasoned rice vinegar
1. Trim and peel the watermelon radishes. Quarter each one lengthwise. If the radish has a hard center core, cut it off so you have a fan shape at the end; see some of the slices in the photo. Now, slice each quarter into pieces a good 1/8 inch thick. Put into a bowl.
2. Trim and halve the cucumber lengthwise. Use a teaspoon to remove the seeds. Cut crosswise into pieces to match the thickness of the watermelon radish. Add to the bowl with the radish.
3. Toss the vegetables with 1/4 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of sugar. Set aside for 15 to 30 minutes. The vegetables will release a pool of water into the bowl.
4. Drain the vegetables, give them a rinse, and then grab handful and give them just a slight squeeze. Transfer to a bowl. Toss with a generous pinch or two of salt, 1/2 teaspoon sugar, and the rice vinegar. Taste and adjust the flavor to your liking. I sometimes end up using equal parts sugar and vinegar. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate for up to 4 hours.
Have you grown or eaten watermelon radishes? How have you prepared the radish?