If a radish could talk she’d have a soft, breathy voice and a laugh that made you want to lean towards her. She would have hips, and though not fat (not even close to fat) she’d have bouts of not believing in her beauty, as though somehow a thinner form would change everything, and she’s conflicted there too because what would she really want to be different? But there you go. She charms with her insecurity and her rose hue, orb-shaped form, and her raw porcelain fragrance. Clean, she smells, like ocean air on clear day, or a freshly washed apple peeling.
I’m in France, right now. Il De Re–to be exact, an island named for a Greek sun god. We are a hop from La Rochelle, and the white washed buildings are low and labyrinthine on cobblestoned streets. The tourists lounge on the beaches with a cartoon-blue surf nearby. Still warm here, I’ve seen French persons lounging in their birthday suits. With their clothes on, scarfs knotted at the neck, they sit in one of the many cafes drinking pink wines. No one is hurried here. Everyone is kind. They don’t seem to mind us Americans too much.
I’m with a writing group, or class (call us what you like) this group of women from all over the U.S. discussing writing and life and of course (since we are in France) food. What we eat. What we don’t eat. How we want to eat it. Did you eat all of those yogurts? Is the salted butter around? Hey, is there more coffee?
What you consume says so much, too much, I sometimes think. I’m the new girl here (one of them). Too old to hide my consumptive habits, and yet, sadly enough there’s still those insecurities. Am I drinking too much wine? Yes. Too much coffee, yes. Was it you who at the last of that cheese? Yes! Yes! Yes!
Last evening, in a French version of Denny’s we accidently walked into (sat down and dined in) I drank wine and beer at the same time. A sip here, a sip there, in between bites of shriveled mussels. Not the best meal I’ve had here (in fact, it was the worst) but I think contrast in one’s diet is important. And the companionship was good.
Our fearless leader, the novelist Pam Houston, likes radishes. She has bought three bunches in as many days. It’s been a long time since I have bought a bunch a radishes, and longer still since I cleaned their skins and snipped their heads. Why has it been so long? Why have I always been slightly afraid of such a small, soft-spoken vegetable? I don’t know.
Please do not tell me it all goes back to my radish-less child. But perhaps yes, yes it does, and yet I don’t care to explore those Formica counters of my childhood today, so let’s say no, my mother didn’t care for radishes. She thought they tasted bitter. Often the radishes in America, displayed too long, and out of the ground way too long, do have a bitter and metallic taste.
As a chef (many years ago) I bought radishes in France and Italy and used them for garnish in salads. I carved a few. I might have braised them a time or to, but I don’t remember handling radishes all that often. As cooks we have our prejudices.
So the last few days, with humility, with pleasure, I have accepted the radish bunches Pam hands to me. I wash their skins. I trim their edges. I cut off the stems. I slice them into little, red-outlined circles that we throw into the salad bowl with the purple lettuces that are lacy as the hem on an elegant dress.
And guess what? What a treat they are—that hint of vegetal sweetness combined with the mild crispness of a very thin mild apple. A slice of sweet radish on the tongue is like lace in the mouth. If a vegetable could be a piece of delicate glass, here it is! So I am here to say, don’t be afraid of the radish! Lean into her! A half-cup contains a mere nine calories. She’s high in fiber. She’s filled with vitamin C. She’s beautiful. She’s dainty. She’s worth listening to.
Snack Radishes with Pam’s Dressing
1 fresh bunch of radishes your local vegetable stand.
1 teaspoons of salt
Cut the stems of the radishes off at the cap. If you want to use the green stem as a handle you might want to keep a quarter of an inch on your little radishes.
Rinse your radishes under very cold water.
Dry with a paper towel well so that there is no moistness on the outside.
Trim the less than attractive pieces off, like the little hairs at the end of the vegetable. If there are any unsavory markings trim those off with a very sharp knife.
Now, if you would like to add them to a salad use a very sharp knife to cut them into disks. Otherwise, you can present them whole, as they are, in plate with a nice little vinaigrette on the side.
Pam’s Dressing or Marinade. (She calls it a dressing but anything with equal parts oil and vinegar is a marinade to me)
Two tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice
Add salt to taste and let sit for a minute (which gives the salt a chance to dissolve)
Add desired amount of olive oil and any herbs you might want, like chives or basil. Sprinkle this over your plate or radishes and add a generous amount of pepper.