It’s stir-fry season in the garden. In between the flush of springtime crops like lettuce and peas and the lush summer season of cuke, zuke, and tomato fruits comes a lull wherein what’s available for dinner often turns out to be (as it was for me last night) two string beans, a handful of mustard greens, a bunch of arugula now too sharp to eat raw, one small yellow squash, the peas from five pods, and… some radish seedpods. The only thing to do is make a stir-fry or (my favorite) cook up some spaghetti, let the heat of the pasta wilt the greens, saute everything else along with some basil and garlic greens (also from the garden) and mix it all up.
I had the radish pods because I’m letting a couple of plants go to seed so that I can save the seeds for next year. If you’ve ever seen the sprawling mess of a radish (or turnip or broccoli) plant flowering, then you understand the origin of such colloquial phrases as “seedy hotel” or “she let herself go to seed.” On the upside, the two radish plants that have taken over my little lettuce/mustard/onion patch are providing plenty of midday shade to keep the lettuce from bolting (suddenly growing a stalk, becoming bitterly inedible in the process).
I *still* haven’t got a new battery for my camera, so we’ll have to make do with images from elsewhere. Here, courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons, is what a radish plant looks like if you let it flower:
Flower of Wild Radish (Raphanus raphinistrum, Brassicaceae). Photographed 17th August 2005 in the Presidio, San Francisco by Stephen Lea.
After the flowers come the seed pods, which are bright green and about the size and shape of cayenne peppers, with about the same variety in size and shape as such peppers, ranging from short and plump to long and skinny. You can see pictures of radish pods here and here.
I consider radish pods one of the little luxuries of gardening, “gourmet” food that you can get only by grubbing in the dirt. I suppose somebody probably sells them somewhere, but I’ve never encountered them outside of my own garden.
Radishes themselves were among the first sweet surprises of gardening for me. I first started gardening in 1993 as a result of LGBT “Pride” weekend in Michigan. My friends who ran a feminist bookstore needed to spend the weekend at the festivities and I agreed to cover the store for the whole weekend, which was dead because most of the usual customers were also celebrating elsewhere. Killing time, I picked up a basic how-to gardening book and soon found myself absorbed, reading every word of the details of how to plant carrots or make your own trellis. “Tomatoes,” I thought dreamily, “truly sweet corn.” The next weekend, I dug up part of the backyard, thanking my lucky stars for having a landlord who lived in another country. Before long, I learned what the word “grounded” really means.
I also discovered what vegetables really taste like. The juicy sharp-sweet piquancy of fresh radishes were a delightful surprise. Later, I learned how very many varieties of radishes there are.
So, let me go on for a moment to praise the lowly radish. Easiest of all plants to grow, the radish is entirely edible, offering leaves, roots, flowers and seedpods over the course of its life. That means that you can:
- eat the entire seedling when you thin the plants shortly after sowing, tossing them into salads or just rinsing and popping them into your mouth in the garden
- harvest a few leaves from each plant as it grows to toss into stir fries, include in batches of mixed greens, or any other use you can think of for a slightly spicy green (I like to chop them finely and cook them down with red lentils)
- use all of the greens from any plant that doesn’t seem to be forming a good root, perhaps because you didn’t thin or water them enough
- eat the roots raw or cooked, alone or in concert with other vegetables
- toss the flowers into salads for color and spice
- crunch young seedpods right out in the garden or bring in them inside for late-season salads
- steam or saute older seedpods
Did I mention that they grow so quickly that some varieties mature in as few as 21 days? That means you can plant a crop in the spring, harvest it, and then use the same spot to grow a summer crop of something else.
Anybody can grow radishes! It’s not to late for you to grow them too. While it’s a bit hot to start radishes here in Maryland right now (they’ll bolt — flower before forming good roots) I used to start radishes in Michigan in June. And anybody can wait until late summer to start radishes that will grow in the cooler autumn weather.
I hear they’re celebrating Pride in Minneapolis (where I just was) next weekend. Maybe I’ll join in by crunching on a radish pod while remembering the Pride weekend that inspired me to start gardening.