In ancient Greece, there was a vegetable so revered that Greeks offered pure-gold replicas to Apollo, god of sun, light, music, poetry, prophecy, and more. The prized produce? Radishes. (Beets, on the other hand, were cast in silver; lowly turnips, lead.) Glorifying radishes sure makes sense to me: In their crisp, peppery-hot raw state, these colorful roots can enhance salads or crudités platters or star in an elegant appetizer where I generally like to complement their pungency with sweet and/or creamy ingredients. If the fire of raw radishes is not your thing, then cooking them—whether sautéing, braising, or roasting—is the way to go.
That’s because their assertiveness comes from a compound created by an enzyme in their skins that’s easily deactivated with heat. It’s related to the compounds that give mustard, wasabi, and horseradish their spiciness. Cooking transforms the texture of the root, too, quickly turning it tender and succulent.
This easy appetizer is a riff on the venerable French nibble of radishes smeared with sweet butter and sprinkled with sea salt. We chop the radishes with vinegar to give their pungency staying power and then mix in horseradish to boost the spiciness.
And then there are the wispy greens, which can add big flavor, textural variety, and color (think of them as a gutsier version of arugula or watercress). Leave them raw and treat them like lettuce for a fresh element, lightly roast or braise them, or sauté them like spinach to bring out an earthiness that complements the sweetness of the cooked root.
With so much to love about radishes, I think the Greeks got it right: They’re pure gold.
Spring Radish Varieties
These rosy-colored, tapered radishes with telltale white tips are especially mild.
These are the most commonly grown radishes in the U.S.; there are many varieties, such as Cherry Belle and Scarlet Globe. In general, they have a sharp flavor and a juicy crunch.
Slice these violet-red, oblong radishes to reveal a starlike matrix of lavender veins. They have a crisp texture and a spicy kick.
Not an actual variety of radish but a mix of pastel-colored varieties, these radishes are commonly harvested when quite small—about 1 inch in diameter. They are mild and crunchy, with bright-white flesh and subtle heat that builds.