Thursday 19 August 2010

Cooking with Radish Pods

What to do with Bolted Radishes

Whatever the cause, this year has been a truly terrible one for radishes. Despite planting early, mine decided to bolt almost immediately, generating long stems and almost no root.

Not being one to waste anything in the garden, I went on the look-out for what I might do with my under-whelming plants. I already knew that radish leaves were edible and picked a few off each plant for stir-fried and salads.

Then I stumbled upon a recipe from Mrs Beeton for an Indian Pickle that had radish pods as one of its ingredients (one of my current projects is redacting Mrs Beeton's recipes for the modern cook. So, what was this 'radish pod' referred to.

A quick web search revealed that the pods used were probably 'rat-tailed radishes', a type developed in India for their pods rather than their roots. It also seemed that the flowers and seed pods of all radishes were edible. If I allowed my bolted radishes to flower and be fertilized, then I would have a crop of pods to eat.

It seems that radish pods originally came to Britain from Java in 1815. These are radishes specially bred to produce edible pods (they are also known as aerial radishes, podding radishes, or Java radishes after their place of origin), and in general they do not even have the enlarged taproot one typically associates with radishes. In Germany, a variety named Munchen Bier has both edible pod and root. The large black radish is sliced, buttered and eaten as a snack with dark beer — as are the pods.

Of course, all radish seed pods are edible. Just pick them before they begin to dry and turn brown. What makes Java radishes special is that they are bred to produce large seed pods and these are then harvested and eaten or sold (they are a common feature in Indian markets). They were also used frequently in Victorian cookery for Indian-style pickles and preserves.

The pods are spicy and taste very similar to radish root. However, they mellow significantly upon cooking. As a result, it's best to use them as a flavouring for salads or as a raw garnish to other dishes. They can also be topped and tailed and added raw to soups and they make an excellent pickle. Though the flavour diminishes, they work well in stir-fries as they hold their shape and crispness well.

Below is a classic recipe for a refrigerator radish pod pickle:

Brine-pickled Radish Pods

600ml radish pods, washed and dried
200ml hot water
120ml cider vinegar
6 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp sea salt
1/2 tsp yellow mustard seeds
6 black peppercorns
2 dried red chillies

Combine the water, vinegar, salt and sugar in a large jar. Secure a lid then shake until the sugar and salt are dissolved then set aside.

Pack the radish pods into jars, add the spices then pour over the sugar and salt brine so that the radishes are covered then secure the lid. Place in the refrigerator and leave to mature for at least one week before eating (they will last for a couple of months if kept refrigerated).

These make and excellent snack, can be used as a garnish, can be added to salads and also work well in martinis!

If you would like further recipes using radish pods, why not check out this page of radish pod recipes.
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