Radishes are one of my favorite things to grow, although they weren’t always. They are very easy and reliable, some years the only vegetable we could manage to grow in the early years of gardening, before we had cows and goats to enrich the land.
I’ve pickled them, served them with butter, chopped the roots up for salad, and added them to stir-fry. But what to do with the big, leafy top? I’ve added the leaves to pickles, or fed them to the chickens and pigs (the goats and cows are often too picky about radish tops, can you believe it?).
When someone suggested last year trying the leaves as a salad, the idea didn’t appeal to me at all. Radish tops can be very spicy, or prickly depending on the variety.
But last year our row of lettuce was hit hard by the rabbits, and I found myself without the fresh salad greens I had been so looking forward to. That’s when I made a wonderful discovery.
In the cool weather of later fall and winter, the radish tops were sweet and delicious. And my favorite radishes, French Breakfast and Daikon, have smoother-textured leaves. Cool weather is certainly the key to having a mild and sweet radish salad. It’s become my favorite vegetable side dish this season. Thrift, or letting nothing go to waste, never fails to impress me with how enriched life can be by the cultivation this humble virtue.
To mellow the flavour of the radishes even more, I add sunflower seeds that have been toasted in butter, my poor-man’s substitute for pine nuts in salad (and unlike pine nuts, I can grow them myself!) They add a nutty, buttery flavor and a delightful crunch.
And I love using the seasonal combination of radish and roselle together. They are ready for harvest together in the garden at the same time, and make a wonderful combination together in the kitchen as well.
For The Salad:
A bowlful of very fresh radish tops
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
- It’s important to really wash radish greens. Unlike lettuce that can be carefully cut without getting all sandy, the roots of radishes sprinkle sand all over the tops when they are pulled. Therefore, to begin with, put the greens in a large bowl or cooking pot, and fill it to the top with cool water. Gently swish the leaves around for a minute, then take them out and set them to drain in a colander (as opposed to dumping them into the colander to drain – this only dumps the sand, which will settle to the bottom, back onto them)
- Spin out the water in a salad spinner, or if you are low-tech like me, by wrapping up in a clean dish towel and swinging it around your head (do this outside, of course). Cut radish greens into bite-sized pieces.
- In a shallow pan, melt the butter and sprinkle in the sunflower seeds in a single layer. Toast gently, stirring occasionally, and set aside to cool.
For The Dressing:
1/2 cup Roselle Sauce
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
A few grinds of black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon fresh, or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 Tablespoon honey (optional – depending on how sweet you like salad dressing, or how sweet you make your roselle sauce)
- Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and mix vigorously with a fork.
- Toss together the radish greens, sunflower seeds, and enough dressing.
- Any extra dressing can be stored in a capped jar in the fridge for quite awhile.