What's in Season

Root for Radishes

Spring’s first garden crop—crisp, peppery radishes—comes in dozens of varieties beyond the familiar round and red

Photo: John Burgoyne

David Bancroft has been food obsessed his entire life. As a kid, he loved to help his grandfather, a farmer in Alabama, in the garden. As a teenager in San Antonio, Texas, he would smoke brisket and invite his teammates over to feast after basketball games. And at Auburn University, he was his fraternity’s kitchen steward. These days, as executive chef, he’s taking that passion to the urban garden surrounding his Auburn restaurant, Acre. It overflows year-round with everything from watermelons to strawberries to butter beans. In February and early March, he’s especially excited to pull up the dozen heirloom radishes he plants—favorites like bright red round Saxa and hefty Black Spanish. “I love the crispy crunch of raw radishes and their nice peppery finish,” he says. “And I love how fast radishes grow in the South. They are typically ready for harvest after just thirty days.” Grown by ancient Chinese, Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, radishes are thought to be one of the first crops Europeans introduced to the Americas. They were a welcome addition to Southern gardens due to their quick growth and resistance to bugs. Whether you pluck them from your backyard or the market, trim and reserve the tops, then dunk the bulbs into ice water for a few minutes to help firm them up. After that, store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. The spicy flavor works well paired with any type of fish or shellfish. And you can use the greens in salads, wilted into winter soups, or to make a silky green goddess dressing. Or just follow Bancroft’s simplest preparation. “I usually knock the dirt off the roots and eat them right out of the ground.”

The Chef Recommends:
Green Goddess Dressing

“Don’t throw away the radish greens. They add a special note that jazzes up this extremely versatile classic. Serve it with fresh radish green salad, fold into potato salad, or use on top of crispy salmon croquettes.” —David Bancroft, Acre, Auburn, Alabama

To a blender add 1 cup radish greens, 1 cup Duke’s mayonnaise, ½ cup basil leaves, ½ cup green onions, 2 garlic cloves, 1 tsp. anchovy paste, and 2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice. Blend until smooth. Remove puree to a small bowl and whisk in 1 cup sour cream, 2 tsp. kosher salt, and 1 tsp. fresh-ground black pepper. Store chilled.