Confession: though I have spent years trying to pretend otherwise, I absolutely despise radishes. It’s ludicrous to despise any vegetable (with the exception of kohlrabi, which knows perfectly well what it did), yet radishes, with their violently bitter “peppery” bite, fill me with disgust.
For the past decade, while all the trendy Target moms were keeping up appearances with kale salads and avocado toast, the real cool kids have been obsessing over radishes. They eat French radishes with European butter and expensive salt. They jam fat spears of daikon radishes into mason jars to make their own pickles. They shave vividly colored watermelon radishes into paper-thin slices over kale salads and avocado toast. Radishes are what cool kids eat to demonstrate that they eat, and exist, on an entirely different level than the hoi polloi, and in recent years I decided I wanted in. I kept forcing myself to eat raw radishes, thinking that maybe, just like with caviar and coffee, it would be an acquired taste I would soon find irresistible. It didn’t work. So I decided to “cheat” just a little and start making radish salads on my terms. As the old saying goes, there is nothing is cooler than a renegade chef with a sackful of radishes and nothing to lose.
Radishes are a root vegetable in the brassica family, and are closely related to other round, polarizing vegetables like rutabagas and turnips—both of which I very much enjoy roasted. Radishes are also quite delicious when cooked, but still not special enough to make me see what everyone else was going crazy over. Where the real radish magic comes from, in my opinion, is not from the roots but from the leaves. Oh, if only I could purchase fat bunches of radish leaves on their own! They are like a gentler arugula, with a pleasant bitterness that does far more for a salad than big fat discs of multicolored radishes ever could. The leaves are something I could easily heap my affections upon, even if they are the Charlie Watts to the bulbs’ Mick Jagger.
So let’s make a salad that focuses on radishes when they’re at their best: a mountain of tasty greens topped with cooked roots, tossed with creamy butter vinaigrette made extra flavorful thanks to my brown butter trick and some very good salt. (You should own at least one box of very good, slightly pricey salt, because you’re worth it.) This is a great lunch for one! It doesn’t take much time in the kitchen, and it’s the sort of salad that you can keep on your desk (or the coffee table) and pick at all afternoon long. Let me tell you, whenever I make this salad, my coworkers (all cats) think I am the coolest human they’ve ever known. It feels great.
Serves one as an entree, two as a side
- 1 bunch radishes, with greens
- 1 1/2 Tbsp. butter
- 1 tsp. powdered milk
- 1 Tbsp. white wine vinegar, sherry vinegar, or apple cider vinegar
- 1 Tbsp. olive oil
- Kosher salt, to taste (though if you’ve got fancy salt lying around, this is a great time to use it)
Twist the radish bulbs off the greens, trim off the tops and bottoms of the bulbs, then cut in half. Twist the radish leaves away from the stems, and put them both in a medium-sized bowl.
Add the butter to a skillet set over high heat, then add the radishes, cut side down. When the butter begins to sizzle hard, reduce the heat to medium and cook the radishes without disturbing them for 5 minutes.
Push the radishes to the sides of the pan, then use a silicone spatula to stir in the milk powder, smooshing as needed until you no longer see any white clumps. Use a fork or tongs to lift the radishes and move them—still cut-side down—onto the milk solids. Cook for another minute or so, occasionally peeking at the underside of the radishes to make sure they are not burning, then move them to a plate when they are toasty brown.
Remove the skillet from the heat; using the spatula, stir in the vinegar and then the olive oil with a pinch of salt. Give the vinaigrette a taste (you may want to add another drop of vinegar) and then pour onto the radish greens. Toss well, then plate the greens with the radishes and sprinkle with your fanciest of fancy salt. Serve immediately.