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The radish: Now available in colors

The radish—from the Latin word radix or root—is not exactly the youngest vegetable on the chopping block. The first radish was discovered growing in Egypt in 2780 BC. Centuries later, farmers in Asia developed a range of red, green, and white radishes, and today we know of at least a dozen varieties of this feisty root of the mustard plant.

Cherry Belle. This the most common radish found in American markets. It is a small, round red radish. The more elongated the radish, the sharper the bite.

Icicle Radishes. These radishes resemble stubby carrots—they are a few inches long and are about the size of your thumb with white or red skin and white or pinkish flesh. They are comparable to the red radish in flavor and texture.

Easter Egg Radishes. This is a group term for small, globe-shaped, white, purple, pink, and red radishes sold at markets like little bouquets.

French Breakfast Radishes. White tipped with rosy bodies, they are easy to recognize because their elongated shape runs from bright red at the stem end to white at the root. These radishes are noticeably milder than others and have short leaves that can be eaten.

The French nibble these radish varieties raw, buttered and salted or served with thickly buttered bread to start a meal. Americans tend to favor the radish relish tray, packed with olives and carrot and celery sticks. But there is no need to just eat them raw; radishes are good cooked as well. Blanched, braised, roasted, or sautéed, they turn paler and less crunchy, but have a mellower, more appealing flavor that complements fish and poultry.

From Asia, there are about a half-dozen radish varieties: the Daikon (Japan), the Mooli (India), the Moo (Korea), and the Lo bok or Luo boh (China).

Daikon. This variety from Japan is the most popular Asian radish. It is a long, white vegetable that looks like a giant carrot that's had the color drained out of it. Although these radishes usually weigh about 1 lb., they have been known to reach up to 60.

Daikon can be used raw—peeled, shredded and added to salads, or sliced into chips and topped with fish roe, tapenade, or smoked salmon and wasabi—or cooked, where they develop the juiciness of young turnips. They can be cut up and added to soups, stews, and braises; roasted alongside chicken; or stir-fried. The radish sprouts can be used as spicy accents to salads, or to garnish sandwiches and soups.

Choose firm, solid radishes; skins should be free from cracks and the greens perky and crisp. Remove and discard leaves and refrigerate radishes in loosely sealed plastic bags for up to 5 days. Radishes should be stored at 32°F-36°F with 90%-98% relative humidity. To prolong the life of radishes, drop them into lukewarm water, swishing gently for 3-4 min. to dislodge dirt. Dry and pack loosely in airtight boxes and chill. Radishes will stay in shape for twice as long this way (7-8 days instead of 3-4). Wash and trim root ends just before using. Basic red radishes do not need to be peeled, but thicker-skinned daikon benefit from a little time with a vegetable peeler.

Radishes are available in 15-35-lb. cartons; 25-40-lb. bulk bags (topped); and cartons holding 6-oz, 8-oz., 1-lb., and 5-lb. bags (topped).

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