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Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Veggie Might

Historic times are upon us, good reader!

This past Friday, the first-ever summer salad fashion show was staged at Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan. The name? A brilliant riff on the well-worn phrase “puttin' on the ritz.” Give up? Puttin' on the Spritz!!

This cutting-edge advertising spectacle (for Wishbone Salad Spritzers) paired women dressed as vegetables with “celebrity” host and “fitness” fruitcake Richard Simmons. Which makes total sense, because nothing whets my appetite like Simmons in a leotard and striped short-shorts staving off giant man-eating she-carrots.

Having not actually attended, I'll go out on a limb and assume the novelty wore thin but fast. Still, The Porkchop Express likes to squeeze the most flavor out of every moment, vicarious or otherwise. And this picture did get us thinking: vegetables, eh?

Improbable as it may seem, we have a number of loyal vegetarian readers, and it feels only right to highlight a quality non delicious meat product every so often. Of course, this isn’t as easy as it sounds. After all, it’s grilling season in New York; I just bought a meat grinder; the 4th Annual Big Apple Barbeque Block Party is upon us; and generally speaking, everything goes “better with bacon.” So what to do? Head to the greenmarket, of course!

decisions, decisions!

Greenmarket vendors can really spruce up your culinary day, and the motley assortment of farmers, fishmongers, pork enthusiasts, dairy-folk, and herbologists who congregate at Grand Army Plaza every Saturday morning are no exception. This is especially true of the veggie-folk, whose skills in the timeless art of vegetable arrangement (freshu yasai-arrange) are unrivaled.

These wily farmers–hailing from Suffolk County to the Garden State–are pros. They know their game, and bring produce sexy enough to entice even the most stalwart meat-atarian: busty bunches of Arrugala, spunky sugar-snap peas, stiff spears of asparagus, and ribald pots of tarragon and thyme.

All of these treats exude a hypnotic sense of delicious, especially now in New York, with produce season just kicking into high gear. And to be honest, after long cold months of tubers and apples, nigh anything with a sprig looks exciting. But even amidst our seasonal cornucopia, one item shot to the visual fore: the radish.

Yes, humane eater: much to my delight, radish season is upon New York.

The radish is, sadly, a wholly underrated vegetable. Is there a less-welcomed salad accoutrement? A less popular finger sandwich? A more neglected addition to homemade broth? The radish is the “corner-store goldfish” of the vegetable kingdom, something that might be in your fridge (you haven’t checked lately), rarely gets fed (to anyone), and spreads no joy (just sadness–when you smell one rotting and have to quickly dispose).

The only time I consistently see radishes are in Mexican restaurants, served with a few lime wedges to cleanse the palate and whet the appetite. I think we have much to learn from our neighbors to the south, so The Porkchop Express did a little sleuthing.

Yet the more dirt we dug up about the radish, the stranger its neglect seemed. After all, the cultivated Raphanus sativus is one of our most venerable vegetables, dating back to at least 2780 BC in Egypt. That’s right, curious reader, this round rosy treat is older than Socrates, Jesus, Confucius, and the Great Pyramid of Giza.

The Chinese have enjoyed radishes since the 7th Century BCE, the Japanese since around 1,000 CE. Ancient Greeks offered radishes to the Gods, and rumor has it that Apollo even received a solid gold simulacrum in his temple at Delphi. The Roman poet Horace waxed eloquent on the radish’s role as an appetite stimulant, while his country’s soldiers introduced the root to Germans and Brits. By the 16th Century, the British had developed several varietals, the seeds of which Puritan colonizers carried to the New World. Radishes took kindly to the Massachusetts soil, bringing a bit of Old English flavor to the New England garden.

In America, radishes are associated with round red bulbs but they (like the people who enjoy them) come in all dispositions, shapes, sizes and colors (deep purple, pale green, creamy yellow, black, white). Some are stout while others are lean, oblong or oval. And they range in size from a few centimeters to several feet in length. The National Garden Bureau reports that single radishes weigh anywhere from a dainty near-ounce, to an elephantitis-awkward 70 pounds (about 32 kilos or 5 stone).

Radishes also get around. The long, thick pale white daikon is Japan's most popular pickle. In Oaxaca, Mexico, folks celebrate La Noche de los Rábanos (Night of the Radishes). But the tastiest tale comes from a buddy from Berlin, who waxes eloquent on the Munchner Bier rettich. Big and white and long like a carrot, this Bavarian beer hall staple is cut with a “special super bavarian knifey-thing” so that it can be pulled in a strip 400 meters long. Sprinkled with salt, accompanied with sausage or pretzel, and washed down with a delicious maß of beer (served by buxom beergarden waitresses, no less), the rettich is a centerpiece of south German democracy: young and old, rich and poor, naughty and nice all gather 'round at long tables, swilling liters, pulling radish ribbons, and having a jolly old timenschaffen.

Have no fear, tho. The radish can be enjoyed elsewhere, and with much less preparation: a rinse and a bite. Take these remarkable Greenmarket specimens, big rosey radiant bulbs with hearty greens and opaque centers. The maiden munch is as satisfying as any nonfat food can be: extremely mild, creamy, peppery... I kid you not. Try a few whole, or slice and toss with lemon juice, oil, salt and chives (below). Radishes also go great with drinks, and help cut the fat of grilled meats, making them a logical guest at the summer backyard barbeque.

When purchasing, look for bunches with their tops intact. The root and leaves alike should be firm, with robust color. Avoid anything dull or wilted. And buy lots: they go fast, and keep well in a bowl of water in the fridge, with the tops removed.

So summon courage, heed the wisdom of the ages, and help restore the radish to its historic glory this summer. No matter how you cut it, atsa mighty fine snack!

Til Tuesday,

–J. Slab

Radish Facts
  • Members of the Brassicaceae or Cruciferae (mustard) family, which includes everything from cabbage to horseradish
  • From the Latin radicem or radix
  • Can be pickled, made into puddings, salads, soups, sandwiches
  • Easy to grow. Common varieties mature in under a month, twice a year
  • 94% water
  • 3-ounce radishes are only 20 calories, and they have potassium levels on par with Mr. Fatty Banana

Special Thanks
  • To Ruth and the National Garden Bureau, for their entertaining and informative Radish Fact Sheet. The NGB is a non-profit group that educates folks on the many benefits of home gardening. They also dubbed 1996 Year of Radish, thereby ensuring a place in the heart of The Porkchop Express.



Blogger happy happy som said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

2:38 PM  
Anonymous coryzalia said...

It was a hilarious advertising for the vegetable salad.

4:07 AM  

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