It’s the end of the month, and we will be billing your credit cards this week. The bill will include this week’s boxes as well. Please note that November had four Mondays and five Wednesdays.
A Vegetable to Dai(kon) For
Our Facebook group is alive and kicking, or so I hear from my “connected” friends. It numbers over 100 members, and rumor has it that there’s been a recurring plea amongst them for help in deciphering the daikon. Even I, assisted by such archaic technological devices as phone and email, have succeeded in responding to a few questions regarding this white, elongated root that has been frequenting your boxes of late. I guess it’s high time for our seasonal Daikon Newsletter…
First, some family background: The daikon is actually an elongated Japanese radish, which proves–contrary to popular belief–that the radish is a colorful, diversified vegetable ranging in size and shape from tiny cherry-like radishes all the way to huge basketball-sized models. The elongated radishes vary from small finger-sized varieties to whopper radishes measuring 60 cm long and 15 cm wide. And the radish color scale stretches from red and purple to different hues of pink, yellow and green, to white. There are even black (Spanish) radishes, with black skin and white insides.
The Chinese, Egyptians, Greek and Romans have been well acquainted with radishes for thousands of years. In the Mediterranean area, we can track the presence of radishes back nearly 4,000 years! To date, the most ancient drawing of a radish appears on pyramid walls dating back to 2000 BC. In ancient Greece, radishes were greatly revered, and golden radish icons were used to worship Apollo. In comparison, the beet came in second with silver icons, with turnips rating lead. Roman lore includes mention of different-sized radishes. Most of the radishes of the time must have been jumbo size, similar to today’s Far East varieties. The small radishes were introduced to us from the middle of the 16th century. The radish is also one of the first crops introduced to the Native Americans by Columbus. Around the 1500s, it was already known in Mexico and Haiti. To this day, there is an interesting radish festival that takes place in southern Mexico during this time of the year.
In Israel, the radish was known during the Mishnaic Era. Its seeds were used to make oil for lanterns, and it was grown for food. It was considered a delicacy that was served to kings and rulers all year long: “These are Antoninus and Rabbi, whose table never lacked radish, lettuce or cucumbers, neither in summer nor winter!” (Berachot, 41)
Such is the low-maintenance radish, which can be grown with relative ease throughout the entire year. It even tolerates the hot Israeli summer, although it prefers the coolness of winter, spring and autumn.
While Europeans preferred the small, round reddish-pink radish, the East opted for the larger sizes, thus the species developed there are the longer, paler types. The daikon is a Japanese white radish, as its name “big (dai) root (kon)” testifies. It looks a little like a big, smooth, white carrot (there are also yellowish, green and black varieties, and this year we tried a new, darker type). Size-wise, daikons run the full gamut. Last year we grew large ones, but this year we found a smaller variety which we prefer, including a miniature one coined a “small daikon radish”
The daikon is especially adored in the Far East. It is renowned for its ability to aid digestion and purify and relieve the air tracts. The daikon constitutes one-third of the vegetables grown in Egypt (by weight). These radishes are usually pickled in huge barrels and added to food as pickles. You might recognize them as that grated vegetable served with sushi, alongside the pickled ginger.
We make the most use of the radish root (or more accurately, the neck of the root), but its green leaves and other parts can be used as well. In China there is one species grown solely to extract oil from its seeds. In Egypt and the East, there are types grown for their leaves.
The radish has been known to aid digestion from the time of the Mishna: “the radish cuts the food” (Avoda Zara, 11) and as a plant that reduces fever and aids in relieving the common cold. “The radish is good for those ailed by [lack of] sunshine” (Rashi, Avoda Zara, 28). These claims are supported today by the proven nutritional value of radishes and daikons, rich in vitamin C and enzymes that help digestion.
In an article in praise of the daikon, Rebecca Wood, a guru of whole natural food, writes that the daikon purifies the blood, improves energy flow, accelerates metabolism, purifies the kidneys and cleanses the lungs. She suggests regular consumption of daikon to prevent the common cold, flu and respiratory infections. Wood touts daikon as a remedy for hangover, sore throat, and edema, and even claims it’s a cancer-preventer. Click here for her personal brew for treating asthma and respiratory ailments, tasty and useful.
And to top it all – the daikon is simply tasty. Its taste and texture are somewhere between the radish and turnip, with a tang gentler than the radish and with a wintery freshness that only such a root can attain.
And now, for a little daikon comic relief, the tale of the daikon local hero:
In 2006 Japanese newspaper readers and television viewers have been gripped by the vegetable drama unfolding in the small western town of Aioi. Daikon are among the most common of Japanese edible roots, and Little Dai, as he is fondly known, was remarkable in only one respect: rather than growing in the fields, he was an urban radish who pushed himself up through solid asphalt on a roadside pavement. He first appeared in July and, rather than extracting him and filling in the hole, the local council honored him with a signboard bearing the words: “Observe with affection”. Locals christened him Dokonjo Daikon, “the daikon with fighting spirit”, or, more colloquially, “the radish with balls”.
But after a few months, the residents were shocked to discover that an anonymous hand had amputated the stubborn root. The attempted radish murder opened the TV news broadcasts, giving the gory details that the upper half of the vegetable had been found nearby. Local authorities announced that the amputated half of the radish was now immersed in water in City Hall, in the hope to keep it alive, perhaps make it bloom.
As to why so many people fell in love with the amiable root usually found on their table, a spokesman noted, “People disappointed from the difficult times drew solace from its earnest, strong will to live.”
Japan was not the only place that an anonymous radish influenced lives and brought about philosophical musing. A story by Shalom Aleichem, For One Radish tells of Yentl who became Natalia when she married Sashek (formerly Yakov) and lived the life of an assimilated madam in the big city, with occasional pangs of consciousness and longing for the little shtetl of her youth. One night she wakes up full of longing… for a radish: “I dreamt I saw a small dish full of precious, white, crystal pure radishes, salted with onion and fat. In my dream, my soul was craving, the radish was so good, so beautiful to the eye and soul…” Immediately, the servant is sent to the market to purchase a “precious, gentle and refreshing radish” and the ravishing dish is prepared for the lady. Her husband, who returns from work early, is furious that a radish was allowed in his house, for it is a Jewish food. As it turns out, this radish was not at all innocent, evoking memories and strong feelings in them both until the inevitable ending. A fitting denouement for a radish in the starring role….
Tips for Storing and Using Radishes and Daikon:
-To prevent radishes (and daikon) from becoming “dry as a radish,” they must be refrigerated. First, remove the leaves so that they will not draw moisture from the root. Afterwards, place the root in a sealed container in the refrigerator.
If, despite it all, the radish becomes shriveled and pathetic, place it in a bowl of ice water to revive the radish and restore its firm texture.
-Daikon (and also radishes!) can be cooked–Some say that’s the best use of all.
A Japanese secret for cooking daikon: use rinse water from rice, or a bit of rice vinegar, to retain the daikon’s whiteness and moderate the bitter, sharp taste.
In cooking, peel the daikon to reduce the bitterness found primarily in the peeling and to prevent stringiness. The root itself is sweet and crunchy.
This week I collected many recipes from the past, for many uses of this diverse vegetable.
Have a great week,
Alon, Bat Ami and the Chubeza team
What’s in This Week’s Boxes?
Monday: Sweet potatoes, dill or cilantro, Swiss chard or kale, scallions, cabbage or kohlrabi, tomatoes, sweet red peppers, parsley, potatoes, daikon, lettuce
In the large box, in addition: Beets or turnips, leeks, broccoli or cauliflower
Wednesday: arugula, mustard greens, potatoes, cilantro or dill, broccoli or cabbage, kohlrabi or turnips, red peppers, spinach or kale, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, daikon or radish
In the large box, in addition: lettuce, green onions, leeks
We’re still experiencing cucumbers shortage and could get them this week – we got red peppers for you instead.
And there’s more! You can add to your basket a wide, delectable range of additional products from fine small producers: granola and cookies, flour, sprouts, goat dairies, fruits, honey, crackers, probiotic foods, sesame butter and dried fruits and leathers too! You can learn more about each producer on the Chubeza website. The attached order form includes a detailed listing of the products and their cost. Fill it out, and send it back to us soon.
Roxanne’s Daikon Salad
-1 c. daikon, coarsely grated
-1 t. rice vinegar (or apple or white wine vinegar)
-1 t. soy sauce
-1 t. toasted sesame oil (dark)
-Optional: fresh grated or powdered ginger and/or a bit of sugar
Store in sealed container. Tastes best after refrigerated several hours or overnight.
Hot Daikon and Carrot Salad
(What to do with all those daikons and green onions)
Howard from Jerusalem writes:
I got this recipe from Elisheva Blum of Jerusalem. We used to leave the daikon until last, not knowing how to use it, other than to throw it in soup. We also usually have too many green onions. This is a great and delicious solution:
1 T soy sauce
Olive oil (or sesame seed oil)
Shred equal amounts of daikon and carrots. Add chopped green onions. Sauté in olive oil (or sesame seed oil, says Elisheva.) Add 1 T soy sauce and a touch of honey. We think fresh ginger would go well with it, but haven’t tried it. Serve over brown rice. We finished it all in one sitting. Problem solved.
Lobsong’s daikon recipes—two variations of a similar base:
Daikon and Cheese
(I tried it and it was excellent!)
Oil for frying
1 chopped onion
4-5 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
2 chopped tomatoes
2-4 daikons (depending on size) peeled and sliced into match sticks (2-4 cm. wide)
Garam masala (or other spice of your choice)
Hard yellow cheese, grated
Sauté onion and garlic. Add chopped tomatoes and continue to lightly fry for 3-4 minutes.
Add daikon sticks and spices and continue to cook for around 7 minutes.
Remove from heat. Add grated cheese and cover for 5-10 minutes to melt cheese.
Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve.
Daikon and Meat
Oil for frying
1 chopped onion
4-5 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
2 chopped tomatoes
½ kilo chopped meat
2 daikons, peeled and sliced into rings (or any shape desired)
Water to cover
½ kilo dough (we mixed flour and water till dough was not sticky)
Sauté onion and garlic, add chopped tomato and continue to lightly fry for 3-4 minutes.
Add meat, sauté/cook until meat browns.
Add daikon slices, season with black pepper and mix lightly.
Add water to cover and bring to a boil.
Meanwhile, prepare the dough, taking care that it is not sticky, but not over-floured.
Roll dough into a long pipe, then stretch it (in the air) into a very thin triangle.
Using your fingers, clip the dough into small pieces and drop into mixture boiling in pan.
Add water as desired—For a thick stew, do not add any water. For a thinner dish, add water and adjust spices.
Add cilantro last.
Tibetan Thenthuk Soup
Oil for frying
1 bunch scallions (bulbs)
Parsnip and celeriac (the essential ingredients which flavor the soup)
Additional hard winter vegetables of your choice: kohlrabi, carrot, potato, etc.
Add greens, if desired: turnip greens, or, preferred in Lobsong’s recipe, daikon and radish leaves, or any other. Best are relatively stiff greens such as kale, Swiss chard
Lamb bones (optional)
~ ½ kilo flour
Oil (to oil your hands)
Chopped green part of scallions
–Chop all vegetables and greens into relatively small pieces.
-Heat oil over high flame, add chopped vegetables, and place chopped greens on top. Mix for approximately 10 minutes till vegetables are just soft.
-For a meat soup, add bones now.
-Add water and bring to a boil.
-Prepare dough: Knead flour and water till dough is stiff but pliable. Should make 400 gms of dough.
-Separate the dough into 4 or 5 pieces, and roll each into the shape of a thin hotdog. Oil hands and stretch each “hotdog” into strips, pushing and pulling until obtaining a long noodle approximately 4 cm. wide.
-When vegetables become soft and soup is nearly done, clip noodles with your fingers and pour 3-cm.-long pieces into the boiling soup.
-Continue cooking soup with noodles for another 2-3 minutes and turn off heat.
To serve: Sprinkle several drops of soy sauce or vinegar (whichever you prefer) and garnish with chopped green onion slices.