A couple of weeks ago, there were enough mature purple-fleshed daikon in the garden to send me scurrying to cookbooks in search of recipes.
I settled on stewing a whole chicken, browned beforehand in sesame and peanut oils, nestled snuggly into a Dutch oven amid ample chunks of daikon and a hearty handful of shiitake mushrooms. Then, aromatic additions of thinly sliced ginger, smashed garlic cloves and chopped scallions; splashes of soy sauce, rice wine vinegar and cooking sherry … a tasty concoction, if I do say so myself, though my part in its creation amounted to a willingness to follow instructions, obedient creature that I am.
If only I’d planted more of these interestingly colored Asian radishes! If only naughty cat Isadora had not dug out a goodly portion of the row!
This particular Chinese hybrid, KN-Bravo, grows to about 5 inches in length and measures 3 inches or so in diameter. Some varieties of daikon (the word is Japanese:“dai” – large; “kon” – root ) are measured not in inches, but by the foot. Individual daikon 3- to 4-feet long and weighing 40 to 50 pounds have been recorded.
Like most vegetables of such unusual color, the longer the KN-Bravo purple daikon cooked, the less vibrant it appeared, until finally the chunks of daikon were mostly a boring gray-brown. Too bad, but they tasted fantastic anyway.
Most daikon varieties on the market are white. The KN-Bravo’s color is courtesy of anthocyanin, a naturally occurring pigment. There are a few red-, green-, pink- and even black-colored varieties for adventurous gardeners to trial.
When harvesting daikon, it is probably best to use a garden fork and lift the roots. Longer ones tend to snap off when you apply brute force and pull them out (ask me how I know).
Like any radish – because that’s what daikon is – the growing requirements are fairly modest, though they do require a longer growing period than our traditional radishes. Daikon taste best when grown in the cooler months. Provide decent soil and an inch or so of water a week. The seed should be sown a half-inch to an inch deep and spaced 4- to 6-inches apart.
Summer Cross hybrid is a dependable variety, producing large, lengthy mildly flavored 18-inch roots in 45 days or so. As mentioned, daikon is good stewed, and it can serve as a replacement for turnips, in whole or part, as the cook desires. Daikon can be eaten raw or used in stir-fry dishes, tempura, pickle recipes.
Since we’re on the topic of exotic radishes, I’ve enjoyed growing Nero Tondo black Spanish radishes, too. These are large and round. They grow sweeter with cold weather.
Watermelon radish, also known as rose heart or red meat, is a variety of Chinese daikon inauspicious until cut open. Like some sort of edible geode, all the beauty is contained inside. Watermelon radishes are a lovely vibrant color and look gorgeous in thin slices, arrayed artfully on a serving plate.
Fortunately, watermelon radishes taste nothing like watermelons, which, you’ll be interested to know, I cannot abide – so much so, a few years back as a young lass, desirous of spitting out said seeds in concert with others who were enjoying spitting out their watermelon seeds, I was forced to rid said seed of all foul watermelon taste through vigorous washing, preparatory to placing them in my mouth for fun spitting action.
Quintin Ellison is editor of The Sylva Herald.