Hers and His Radish Tales


Hers by Julia

Dusty gray streets, Beijing 1987.

I'm riding my sturdy red bike, one speed only, to the local restaurant to meet friends who are studying at a different university. We love this small tavern because it's between our two schools and they have great vegetable dishes. Our respective dining halls serve gristly meat dishes and oily noodles because ‘that's what foreigners like'. But in fact we love vegetables. There are 5 of us around the table, sipping tea and glugging flat beer. We have a platter of salted boiled fresh peanuts, a seaweed/algae salad that's far more rustic than our precious Japanese restaurants serve back home, and the biggest platter of all: julienned ‘watermelon radish' or ‘shin re mei'. It's a small, bright red daikon that's whitish green on the outside. It looks like a big platter of slender, wet magenta gummy worms. It's dressed with a hot mixture of dark Chinese vinegar, rice wine and soy sauce, with lots of chopped garlic. It's our favorite dish. It's crunchy, garlicy, and raw, no beef gristle to be found. We catch up on the gossip for the week and order another platter of the glorious salad.

Dusty farm office, Watsonville, 2003 I'm sitting at the computer writing about Andy's latest harvest: watermelon radishes. The memories from living in China and eating this exact vegetable come flooding back. This is a delicious salad, it's easy and healthy. The dressing can be changed and contorted to your own tastes and what's available in your cabinet. It could just be a bit of balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, and garlic, with sesame oil as a bonus. The recipe is below. Please remember that these radishes are mild and make a great munching food, they aren't much spicier than jicama. The savvy host/hostess will top the watermelon radishes, and leave them in plastic until the Wed. before Turkey day. Then wash and slice them, and you have a dramatic, delicious, light, healthy crudite (vegetable munchie).

Beijing Radish Salad

This can be made with watermelon radishes or other types...

1 bunch watermelon radishes

2 tablespoons rice or balsamic vinegar (or a combination)

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 teaspoon sugar

2 teaspoons sesame oil

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

Wash and julienne radishes. They can be peeled or not as you like. I often use a mandoline to do the julienne-ing, or you can grate them. Mix together the rest of the ingredients and dress the radishes with the dressing.

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A little old man with a short, curved bladed paring knife came down to the farmers market one cold, wet, winter day and picked up a fat carrot with a broken tip that had fallen into a puddle. He stood in the middle of the wide aisle with shoppers streaming around him and with an economy of deft slices rapidly carved the carrot into a dramatic goldfish. Passersby gathered around in amazement to watch this spectacle of a fish being released from a stumpy root.

"Oooh, gorgeous" proclaimed a woman. The old gentleman bowed, replied in Chinese, and handed her the piscine carrot.

Another woman perceived her opportunity and handed the sculptor a watermelon radish from her shopping bag. No, a watermelon radish is not a genetically engineered cross between a melon and a radish but rather an antique Asian radish variety that can easily grow to the size of a grapefruit. The off-white skin of the watermelon radish is tinted green at the top where the root is exposed to the sun. Slice the vegetable open and the dull exterior is revealed to wrap up a core of brilliant ruby flesh, hence the name watermelon.

The old fellow held the radish up high by its tail and inspected it. He made his decision and began cutting in swift, short, strokes. Red chips of radish meat rained down onto the pavement as the root was turned in his hands. Three minutes passed and the radish blossomed into a most refined, delicate, scarlet dahlia cupped in his palm for all to see.

Copyright 2003 Andy Griffin and Julia Wiley

Editor's note: It was time to write about watermelon radishes so Andy and I both retreated to opposite ends of the house and wrote for 20 minutes. Above is what we came up with. -julia



These are Watermelon Radishes.