Saturday, October 12, 2013

Waste Not, Want Not

I hate waste, but I have my limits.

I pickled watermelon rinds - once - before I concluded that it was fine to toss them into the compost pile. I think soy sauce makes a better vegetarian soup base than a dubious collection of peels, so my enormous pile of scraps generally go to the compost pile as well, not the stock-in-progress pile.

But if root-to-frond eating, the vegetarian equivalent of snout-to tail -  makes sense, I'm all for it.

My new chum (if not best friend), radish, offers such a package deal.  

The radish's roots are what we think of as "radish," but typically they come attached to some greens. Often those greens look as appealing as as any garden lettuce. And there they are, convenient attached to the vegetable you're already purchasing! 

So if your produce seller asks, "Want me to cut off the tops?" don't absent-mindedly nod yes. It might even be worthwhile to inquire about the greens that your fellow customers requesting be chopped off and discarded. 

But what can you do with the green part of your package deal?

While you ponder your options, give the greens a good clean-up soak. Root vegetables and their attached greens live in soil, and often bring the soil with them wherever they go. Fill a large bowl with water, cut the radish tops off and give them a good soak. Dump out the mud and do it again. Drain and hose them down when you're through. You might be astonished by how much mud is left behind.

Yes, feel free to waste the soil

After you spin or pat the radish greens dry, consider some possibilities:

1) The simplest: Use the greens as you would watercress or arugula. Add them to a salad; bring some brightness to a sandwich; toss them into a soup; or place them as a base underneath a hot, protein-rich food.

2) Be inspired by namul, the marinated vegetable dishes that are part of the banchan often served as appetizers at Korean restaurants. Coat the greens with one or two teaspoons of toasted sesame oil and one tablespoon of soy sauce (feel free to dribble the liquids from their respective bottles and use your well-scrubbed hands to mix). When the marinade is evenly distributed, add one teaspoon of toasted sesame seeds, and if you like, a splash of mirin.

3) Wilt the greens in a very lightly oiled skillet for few minutes. If you're like me, you think a splash of soy sauce makes everything better, so go ahead and add that splash. This is a great use of vegetarian ponzu (citrus) soy sauce.

And what about the radish "bottoms" - you know, radishes?

Start out by making sure the radishes are rid of soil. 

I like to give radishes a haircut - I cut off their rat-tail roots.

Then give them a nice pat-down.

Of course you could use the radish for salads or for lovely garnishes, as I used to do. Lately I've been enjoying the caramelized, salty snack goodness of sauteed radishes. Sauteing the radishes brings out their sweetness - great if you've avoided radishes because you find their raw taste too harsh. I cut the radishes in half and cook them, cut side down, for a relatively long time - 20 minutes or even more - in my trusty cast-iron skillet.

I cover the skillet and keep the flame medium-low. After a while the radishes turn a rosy pink. Keep them there 20 minutes or so and they'll get brown. 

I like to sprinkle them with sea salt right in the pan. There have been times when a friend and I have eaten them directly from the pan, with no pesky, needs-to-be-washed plates getting in the way. Yes, "salty snack goodness" is no misnomer.

Of course, the combo platter - radish tops and bottoms - is another option, a tasty and attractive option.

Radishes are not only dirty, but dirt cheap. A bunch goes for about $1.50 at the Union Square Greenmarket. Many vendors charge just $1 - and with good timing and the slightest interest, you typically can get extra radish greens for free. Pretty astounding.

Yes, I am indeed thinking about the radish.

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