Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Winter Radishes

When people think of radishes, they usually think of the quick growing "spring radishes," like french breakfast, easter egg or tapering icicle type varieties. Easy to grow and easy to eat, usually eaten raw, they are juicy and crunchy addition to many quick snacks and appetizers. The world of radishes is far more extensive than these. Everywhere in the world, radishes of all shapes and sizes are grown and prepared in vastly different ways. The winter radishes all have one thing in common. They are very dense in order to survive harsh growing climates, and their flavor is much stronger than spring varieties. They are generally treated in one of two ways, braised until tender to mellow their sharp flavor, or grated and served as a condiment to highlight their strong and sometimes spicy nature.

Some of these radishes are known by many names. The bleeding heart radish or watermelon radish has too many monikers to list, but seems to be derived from one of the many softball sized asian radishes. It has a beautiful spectrum of color, and is sometimes thinly shaved raw to show it's beauty, but this radish is quite dense for such uses, and thin slices should at least be soaked in cold water before using them raw. It does maintain its colors after being braised, although the color does fade. There are also varieties that have all red skin and flesh, resembling a chioggia beet.

The so-called Spanish black radish is especially tolerant of cold climates, and unlike most winter radishes, it stores well after harvesting. It has a very strong flavor reminiscent of horseradish, and often used in the same way. This root vegetable is common among eastern European cultures. It can be grated and mixed with sour cream or rendered goose fat to spread on dense pumpernickel or rye. It makes a good pickle, or braised until tender with cream or butter.

The Chinese daikon radish is familiar to Americans, but there are many more giant winter radishes of different shapes and sizes. The Chinese probably love radishes more than any other culture, and as a result, they have cultivated the most variety. As with the black radish, it is usually either pickled, braised until tender and served as an accompaniment, or grated and used as a condiment mixed with citrus peels, herbs or chiles. The daikon is one of the most mellow, and a good place to start if you are trying something new with winter radishes.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Juiciest Seeds in the World

Pomegranates are one of nature's unique wonders. The name pomegranate is derived from Latin "apple with many seeds," and it has been given its own family in the plant kingdom. There are over 500 cultivars of varying sizes and skin colors, ranging from yellow and purple, to the more dominant pinks and reds. The seeds also vary in color from white to deep red, and from sweet to very tart. Their cultivation extends back into ancient times, probably indigenous to the fertile crescent and the cradle of civilization, but it is now grown throughout the subtropical regions of the world. It is a popular crop in India, China and Afghanistan, throughout the Mediterranean, and in North America, most commerical production comes from California and Mexico. The tree-like shrub that bears these fruits is often grown outside the subtropics as a decorative landscaping plant, with attractive foliage and a beautiful orange spring blossom.

The seeds are surrounded by a supple pod of juice, delightfully moist and crunchy at the same time. They can be applied directly to dishes both sweet and savory, simply scattered over grilled meats, salads, or desserts. Their juice is also made into sweet syrups and cocktail mixers to extend the juice beyond their growing season, which usually lasts from November to February. When choosing pomegranates, pick the largest fruits, which should be dense and heavy for their size. At the end of the season, the seeds will not fill the entire fruit, and there will be more white pith than fruit (as shown below). Pomegranates do not continue to ripen after being picked, but they do store well under refrigeration. At home, I usually eat pomegranates for breakfast with yogurt and granola, but at the restaurant, they find their way into most everything for a few months.