May 31st, 2011
I’m just going to say it: unfamiliar fruits and vegetables can be plain intimidating.
I first realized this on a trip to Vietnam. Though I was only in my 20′s and not yet serious about cooking, I thought it fair to assume that I was well versed in fruits and vegetables. So when I was served one unfamiliar Southeast Asian fruit after another, I felt, well, a bit shaken. How could there be so much produce that I’d never seen before?! (I should have been wondering how I ever thought there wasn’t so much produce that I’d never seen before.)
Foreign preparations? Of course. Unfamiliar spice blends and sauces. Expected. But alien fruits and vegetables?! A revelation, though not the kind that immediately enlightens. This revelation didn’t feel good at first. After all, is there anything more natural than eating freshly picked foods? Well, as I was later reminded by breast feeding, natural doesn’t always mean instinctually proficient. I found myself wondering: How do you cut dragon fruit? Can you eat the seeds? What about the skin? What would it taste like?
Young and in a completely foreign place, I was too shy to ask a lot of my questions on that trip. Instead, the Hungry Papa (then the Hungry Guy) and I muddled through, watching others and trusting our still developing palates for cues.
Today, though, all grown up and fearless (well, at least about food), I’m unafraid to ask hard hitting questions about unfamiliar produce. It’s only too bad that I don’t run into new specimens more often. (The dark side of being knowledgeable about food.) These days, I mostly run into unfamiliar produce in Asian and other global food markets. Rarely do I discover new produce at my local farmer’s market. I live in Brooklyn, people! So imagine my surprise when I found a root I’d never seen before at my Saturday morning spot.
I immediately grabbed two and marched up to the woman selling them. “What arrrre thesssse?!” The words barely came out fast enough.
A radish! How did I not know about a kind of RADISH?!
Impervious to the wave of geeky enthusiasm that crashed her stand—in only the way a farmer could be—the woman matter-of-factly explained that the bumpy bulb was called a “green radish” and had a mild flavor that tasted great raw. Calming down, I managed to more slowly ask if it would be good cooked? And how about grated? She said that both would work fine.
I walked home, two new-to-me radishes in hand, dreaming up Japanese soup and noodle dishes that I thought could stand a garnish of grated green radish. When I got home, though, I sliced into the firm root to reveal the most stunning interior. It was take your breathe away gorgeous. Even prettier than a Tory Burch pendant. Look for yourself. How could I grate this?
The jewel-like pattern had to show, so thin slices it would be.
I paired slivers of green radish with fennel and orange and dressed the salad with a very light white wine vinaigrette. The mild and refreshing anise flavor of the fennel served as the perfect backdrop for the crisp bite of the radish and juicy sweetness of the orange to play off of each other. So lovely.
This salad barely needs a recipe. For four-to-six servings, simply use a mandolin to shave 1-2 radishes, depending on their size, and 2 bulbs of fennel. You want there to be about 2/3 fennel to 1/3 radish. Then toss with your favorite light dressing. I like nothing more than olive oil, Trader Joe’s orange muscat vinegar, my favorite white wine vinegar, salt and pepper.
I spent so much time ogling and photographing the radishes that it was dark by the time I composed the salad. That means no picture of the final product. Sorry! I’m hoping that the beauty of this green radish—and the desire to try something new, without intimidation—is enough to inspire you.
*Note: This simple salad can be shared with beginner eaters as young as 6+ mos. If your child is still eating purees, consider throwing cooked grain, like quinoa, in with the crispy greens before whizzing into an age appropriate texture. Older children? Bring them into the kitchen while you cut up this (or any other new) veggie. Let them touch, smell, even lick the radish. They are more likely to try something new if they’ve been able to examine it than if it’s served out of the blue.