Opening the week’s CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) delivery is always an exciting experience. What delicious vegetables await?! Well, this round certainly didn’t disappoint. I opened the box to find something completely new – a round white root vegetable with light green shoulders and dark green stems and leaves. Of course, I had to cut into it right away and what a splendid sight was revealed: beautiful, dark pink concentric circles with a light green outer edge, like a tiny watermelon!
I cut a few slices and chomped away. The pink flesh was crisp and sweet with a mild, peppery taste; the exterior a bit spicier. It was a watermelon radish. And it was delicious!
Watermelon radishes (raphanus sativus) are in the brassica (mustard) family and are related to Napa cabbage, bok choy, turnips, broccoli, cauliflower and kale. It is an heirloom variety of the daikon radish.
Originating in Asia, watermelon radishes have grown in popularity and are now available in our high-end groceries year-round. You might also encounter them at a farmer’s market in late fall and winter – prime growing season in Texas. They can be grown during warmer months though higher temperatures tend to soften their texture and bitter their taste.
When shopping for watermelon radishes, choose ones with roots, stems and leaves intact. The roots should be pink, indicating a dark pink, tasty interior. Look for crisp, lively leaves, smooth shiny skin, no blemishes on the bulb and firmness when squeezed.
Watermelon radishes are extremely hydrating – almost 90% water – and a good source of fiber, vitamins B and C, calcium and phosphorus. And just 16 calories per 100 grams!
But why buy these beauties when you can grow them right at home – an ideal addition to your fall and winter vegetable garden. Plant them from September to mid-November and again from February to mid-March.
Source your seeds from online seed catalogs or high-end plant retailers. Consider that they might be labeled by one of their many alternative names: Beauty Heart, Rose Heart, Shinrimei, Misato, Asian Red Meat and Zin Li Mei radish. Shop the “specialty” daikon or Korean radish categories.
Once planted, be sure to use your drip irrigation – maintaining a consistent soil moisture level is important. Too little moisture and your radishes will turn out pithy and hollow, while too much water can cause splitting.
For the best flavor harvest your watermelon radishes about 45 days after planting. They should be about the size of a golf ball at this point. If you can stand waiting another 20 days you’ll produce a crunchier radish with milder flavor.
Radish bulbs should be wrapped and stored separately with leaves and stems removed. The bulbs will keep refrigerated for about two weeks. You’ll need to use the stems and leaves quickly, within 2-3 days.
Beauty and flavor combined make cooking with watermelon radishes a delight. Although, cooking isn’t really needed since their full flavor is best achieved raw. Take this buddha bowl for example – as tasty as it is lovely.
To prepare your radishes, scrub under cold water and trim the root just before using. If crispy radishes entice you, start by soaking the bulb in ice water for 1-2 hours. Their mild, peppery taste pairs well with citrus and slightly bitter greens such as arugula. The striking color accents any dish. I especially love paring them with root vegetables such as sweet potatoes, purple potatoes and rainbow carrots. And they’re perfect for pickling.
Don’t forget about the greens. Fold them into your favorite salad for a little extra spice or sauté them just as you would spinach or collard greens.
The Woodlands Township’s online Fall Sustainable Organic Vegetable Gardening Class is a great opportunity to learn more about growing watermelon radishes and other cool season vegetables. Questions about how to time planting, prepare soil, and care for your fall garden will be answered by an expert horticulturist. This FREE class happens Saturday, August 21, 2021 from 9 a.m. to noon. Register now using the button below. We’re excited to see you in class!