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Mindful : April 2013
Crunch & Spice By Angela Mears White Icicle. Bunny Tail. April Cross. Snow Bell. Plum Purple. Red King. Easter Egg. You may be surprised to learn that these names were given not to nail pol- ish, paint colors, or ca ndies but to diverse va rieties of a single vegetable. Most rad- ishes, once pla nted, mature in less tha n four weeks, yielding edible roots in the gentlest pastels a nd brightest jewel tones. White or black, fist-sized or pebble- shaped, mild or punishing, no vegetable springs f rom its seed so readily or in so many disguises as the radish. Perhaps we have this generosity of form to thank for its association with some of literature’s hungrier heroines. Scarlett O’Hara, upon eating a radish straight out of the dirt at Tara, swore she would never go hungry again. And, according to some accounts, Rapunzel’s mother yearned so powerfully for the radishes in a witch’s garden that she surrendered her infant daughter just to satisfy that craving. If you’ve ever bitten into a raw radish, you know the assertive pungency unex- pected in such a pretty morsel. The sharp- ness comes from sulfurous molecules a nd enzymes that produce, when chewed, a stinging, almost funky flavor also found in mustard and wasabi—a fact that makes radishes a very divisive vegetable. I’ve seen children flee from them. I did. The tacquerias I once visited with my father offered mountains of Red Belles to snack on, trimmed and soaking in pools of ice water. They were mostly tasteless with a n occasional hint of that punishing sha rpness. I was not averse to vegetables as a rule, but I was averse to punishment. But then something happened. I bought a clutch of French Breakfast rad- ishes f rom the farmers’ ma rket, oblong and dirt-caked and streaked with pink. Eaten plain, they were nose-burningly hot. But, when enjoyed thinly sliced with good salt and creamy butter, the effect of their pungency was not unlike that of a ripe French cheese, and soon the burn seemed more pleasing tha n punishing. Strong cheeses are, of course, an acquired taste. But then so a re radishes, and I seem to have acquired a permanent craving for them. I say craving because that is really the only word that will do. Radishes are not refreshing like lettuce, not hearty like kale, not sweet like beets. They belong, for me, somewhere to the left of the produce section. They savor of dirt, brie, yellow mustard. They are intense and unpredictable and hard to refine. Yet for all this personality and swagger, a single Red Belle or French Breakfast offers only one calorie of burn- able energy. Beautiful. Biting. Basic. Radishes at play in a salad, or getting top billing between t wo slices of bread: whatever you choose, eat with the kind of gusto you’d normally reser ve for some- thing richer. Notice how your hunger ebbs, and how quickly it surges again. If only Scarlett O’Ha ra had enjoyed hers a little bit more. ● Makes 4 tartines 4 ounces soft fresh goat cheese 4 slices of bread of your choice 8 to 10 pink radishes, finely sliced (use a mandoline if you have one) 1⁄3 cup cooked edamame Sprouts, to taste (try arugula or broccoli sprouts) Olive oil, to drizzle Pepper Fleur de sel Spread the cheese on top of the slices of bread. Arrange the sliced radishes on top (about 2 radishes per tartine). Add the edamame and sprouts. Drizzle with olive oil. Season with pepper and fleur de sel. Serve with soup or a side salad. Radish, Edamame, and Goat Cheese Tartines with Fleur de Sel Angela Mears writes about food at thespinningplate.com April 2013 mindful 25 one taste