Long and creamy white, daikon radishes are most often thought of as an ingredient in Japanese cuisine. However, they are easy to grow and exceptionally versatile to use. Daikon stores well, too, making them a superb locavore ingredient. (A locavore is a person who eats only locally grown food as much as possible.)
Daikon radishes are one of my favorite vegetables to grow in my home garden. To say they are easy to grow is an understatement. Seeds go directly into the ground–no need for starting them indoors. This year was a particularly good example of how effortless they are to cultivate. I planted some old Miyashige variety seeds in the first week of May. The seeds were intended for the 2006 planting season, so I was doubtful they were even still viable. Nevertheless, they sprouted in just a few days, grew rapidly and vigorously, and last week I harvested lovely foot long radishes about two inches in diameter with greens about two to three feet tall. I got 18 of these beauties from just two square feet of garden space. I expect I’ll be able to reseed that space for a fall crop, too.
Every inch of the daikon radish plant is edible. The root (the radish itself) can be eaten raw or cooked, and makes good pickles as well. The leaves, or “greens”, can also be prepared and eaten many ways. Even the sprouts are delicious! The flavor of the root ranges from mild to hot, depending on the variety, and it blends well with other ingredients. The thickest end of the root tends to be the sweetest, while the thinner end is often more peppery. The greens have a slightly sweet taste compared to other kind of greens such as kale or chard.
Using the roots, you’ve probably seen daikon julienned (cut into “matchstick” size slivers) as an ingredient in Asian stir fry dishes. However, they can also be sliced, diced, or grated for use raw in salads (such as the recipe below) or as part of a plate of raw vegetable finger food. To cook, daikon can be steamed, roasted, boiled, grilled, fried, etc. Use a mandolin to cut the daikon into long, very thin slices and use as a wrap for other ingredients (great for appetizers, for example) or serve it on sandwiches. Because the root is so juicy, it makes a good addition to other fruit and vegetable juices for a refreshing drink. Daikon adds taste and texture to omelets, stews, soups, fish–the list is almost endless. You can prepare daikon in almost any way you would use any other root vegetable.
Daikon roots can be pickled quickly, and it’s easy to find recipes online for overnight and refrigerator pickles which don’t require any special processing. With a little extra effort, daikon can be fermented and made into kimchi.
Daikon greens are equally versatile. I like to strip the leaves from the stems because the leaves are much more tender than the stems and cook faster. I hold the thick end of the stem in one hand, and slide my other hand from there to the thin end of the stem, loosely gripping the leaves as I go. (It’s the same as removing kale from its stems.) The stems are edible, too, and can be chopped and added to the cooking pan first so they have more time to soften.
Greens can be prepared and used exactly as you would other greens, such as kale, chard, or spinach. They should be eaten as soon after harvest as possible because the leaves wilt and turn yellow quickly. Daikon greens are usually not as bitter and so may be more likely to be enjoyed by children. I like to add a little apple cider vinegar to the cooked greens when eating them alone as a side dish. Add garlic, onion, or any other vegetables for a delicious mixture. The greens go well with pasta, beans, or local grains such as triticale, too.
Nutritionally, daikon root is a low calorie food, with just 20 calories per four ounces. It’s also a good source of potassium. It’s not particularly high in vitamins or minerals. However, in Asia daikon is valued for its medicinal properties. For example, daikon contains enzymes believed to aid digestion. According to Rebecca Wood, whole foods pioneer and Julia Child’s Cookbook Award-winning author, diakon “promotes energy circulation and increases the metabolic rate. It contains diuretics, decongestants and, in terms of phytochemicals, the digestive enzymes diastase, amylase and esterase. This makes it a primary ingredient in a great variety of home remedies.” She goes on to say, “Regular use of daikon helps prevent the common cold, flu and respiratory infections. Daikon treats hangovers, sore throats, colds and edema, and it helps the kidneys and decongests the lungs. This restorative vegetable also has anticarcinogenic properties.” At Tokyo’s College of Pharmacy, researchers have discovered that the enzymes in daikon juice actually can inhibit the formation of dangerous carcinogens called nitrosamines in the body. Thus, they say, a diet containing daikon may help prevent cancer.
Daikon roots can be stored for several months much like carrots in a cool environment. I like to dry the leaves, and use them alone or mixed with other herbs to make hot tea. To dry, spread the coarsely chopped leaves on a cookie sheet and place in an oven set at 140-150 degrees (the “Warm” setting) for about 90 minutes, turning occasionally.
If you don’t want to grow daikon yourself, you can find local daikon at the Bellingham Farmers Market.
Try this delicious daikon dish made from a recipe on this website: