A Vegetable to Dai(kon) For
Last week ended in joyous downpours. Though the rain finally arrived here Friday morning, it only stayed long enough for a short round, followed by a dry rest-of-the-day. Yet the “precip” returned once again on Saturday night, saturating the thirsty beds. Some 20 millimeters have already landed in our field, a great quantity to open the rainy season. Monday and Tuesday were two more rainy days, and we’re getting greedy now…
You will see traces of this rain on your veggies this week. The peppers are well peppered with muddy drops. As for the various roots plucked out of the wet earth, though we gave them an initial rinse, look for that muddy ring around your sinks and be grateful…
Autumn showers bring cool-season veggies. This Newsletter is devoted to one with Japanese origins, our friendly Daikon – that white elongated radish. (Usually I receive emails and phone calls wondering what that “white and long vegetable looking like a great big carrot is, though I have a feeling it’s a radish…”)
First, some family background: The daikon is 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 a black peeling and white interior.
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! 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 the lead version. 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 16thcentury. 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 were partial to the small, round reddish-pink radish, the East opted for the larger sizes, thus the species that 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, daikon species run the full gamut, from giant-size to small.
The daikon is especially adored in the Far East. It is renowned for its ability to aid digestion and purify and relieve the respiratory system. The daikon constitutes one-third of the vegetables grown in Egypt (by weight). These radishes are usually preserved 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 aid 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, bronchitis, the common cold, indigestion and even for dieting.
And to top it all – the daikon is simply tasty. Its taste and texture are somewhere between the radish and turnip, with a bite that is milder 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 were 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.”
Surprising, isn’t it? Who would have imagined that this mundane, everyday, conventional radish could provoke such a drama and emotional outpour…
Tips for Storing and Using Radishes and Daikon:
-To prevent radishes (and daikons) 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.
– A Japanese secret for cooking daikon: use rinse water from rice, or a bit of rice vinegar, to retain the daikon’s whiteness and temper 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 assembled many recipes from the past and some new ones for a variety of delicious uses for this unique vegetable.
Enjoy, and good luck!
Alon, Bat Ami, Dror, Maya and the Chubeza team
WHAT’S IN THIS WEEK’S BOXES?
Monday: Sweet potatoes, green bell peppers/eggplant, lettuce/mizuna/arugula, tomatoes, leeks/garlic chives, beans/lubia, dill, cucumbers, carrots, kale/Swiss chard/spinach, daikon
Large box, in addition: Celery, beets/fennel/turnips, coriander, slice of pumpkin
Wednesday: cilantro/dill, Swiss chard/kale/New Zealand spinach, cucumbers, lettuce/arugula, tomatoes, leek/chive, slice of pumpkin, daikon/turnip, carrots, green beans/yard long beans/fresh black eye peas (lubia)/Jerusalem artichoke, sweet potatoes.
Large box, in addition: celery, eggplants/green peppers, fennel/kohlrabi/beets.
And there’s more! You can add to your basket a wide, delectable range of additional products from fine small producers: flour, fruits, honey, dates, almonds, garbanzo beans, crackers, probiotic foods, dried fruits and leathers, olive oil, bakery products, pomegranate juice and goat dairy too! You can learn more about each producer on the Chubeza website. On our order system there’s a detailed listing of the products and their cost, you can make an order online now!