Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Leaves of Radish

It was probably a few years ago that I learned that one can eat radish greens. I set out to do so immediately. This turned out to be a lesson in freshness, or in most cases the lack thereof, especially when it came to supermarket produce offerings. The wilted and sometimes scummy leaves attached to the bundles of radishes I found were anything but appetizing.

So I tried the farmers’ market, and while I found plenty of great radishes with their leaves still intact, it seems that even these would be wilted and less than wonderful by the time I turned to them for experimentation. Apparently radish greens have a pretty short shelf life. And so this year, in order to guarantee the shortest possible shelf time, I grew my own radishes in my container garden on the patio.

My container radishes have grown fast and well. Unlike the little round vegetable at the dirt end, radish leaves are only ever so slightly zesty in flavor, milder than arugula, but a bit stronger than most lettuces. Their taste might vary depending on variety and growing conditions. I let them grow until the leaves were of pretty decent size before I thinned the plants to give the radishes more room to develop. (You didn’t think I was just going to eat the leaves, did you?) These leaves, after being thoroughly cleaned, can be sautéed or even added to salads, although they are more hairy and rough than typical salad greens. I, however, took a cue from this post from the spring of 2009 from Chocolate & Zucchini (I get to these old recipes eventually) and ground mine into a pesto.

I decided to try something different than the traditional Mediterranean-style pesto, and added Asian flavors to my mix. I used peanuts to fill the traditional nut role for pesto and opted for peanut oil to match. I also added a chopped scallion, which really boosted the spiciness of the pesto as well as soy sauce and a little sesame oil. Since I was going somewhat Asian, I didn’t add any cheese.

The resulting sauce/spread/condiment was fragrant and flavorful, with the good punch from raw garlic that you can expect in a traditional pesto, but also some more zing from the scallion. The ever-so-slightly bitter and spicy taste of the radish leaves was a great background for those stronger flavors and the soy sauce and sesame oil filled in the rest of a very satisfying flavor profile. It’s quite complex and utterly delicious!

I served the pesto slathered on toasted baguette slices, and I stirred some into a pan of fried rice with eggs. I don’t mind admitting that I ate a bowl of the fried rice for lunch, then ate the rest in guilty increments directly out of the pan before I could pack it away in the refrigerator.

Of course this pesto could be stirred into a pan of noodles (some of the pasta cooking water is great for thinning it into a sauce.) I’m thinking it might also be good as a flavoring for a compound butter that is then spread on bread and topped with radish slices. That will have to wait until those radishes mature, but in the event that they never do, I’m quite content to just eat all of the leaves!

Radish Leaf and Peanut Pesto

about 2 ounces radish leaves (about 2 big handfuls)
1 ounce salted peanuts
1 large garlic clove, peeled and chopped
1 scallion, chopped
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon peanut oil
1 teaspoon dark sesame oil

1. Put the radish leaves, peanuts, garlic and scallion in a food processor. Process until very finely chopped. Scrape down the sides of the processor bowl.

2. In a very small bowl, combine the soy sauce, peanut oil and sesame oil. Turn on the processor and slowly add the soy sauce mixture through the feed tube. Process until very smooth.

Makes a generous ½ cup.

Other recipes like this one: Basic Basil Pesto, Arugula Pesto with Kalamata Olives

One year ago: Peanutty Noodles

Two years ago: Asparagus and Pasta with Balsamic-Tarragon Sauce and Bacon


  1. I just ried your asian pesto with radishes leaves! excellent! I had cooked basmati and shrimps from the night before...the pesto was great on the side, as a condiment!

    1. I'm re-reading this almost a year later and getting very hungry!

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