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A delicious recipe for radish greens

September 26, 2011 · 30 comments

in Loving food

This post is about a great recipe. It’s also about the possibility of re-invention. The story begins with Sophie Morgiewicz, 71, the widowed matriarch of Morgiewiecz Farms in upstate Goshen, N.Y.

Sophie and her three sons grow tons of vegetables on their 170-acre property, which has been in the family for five generations. Every Saturday, they drive down from their home in the Hudson Valley’s legendary Black Dirt region to my local farmers market in Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y. I’m always there on Saturday’s too, browsing their splendid array of leafy greens, squashes and root vegetables.

But then, Irene put their farm underwater and destroyed much of their harvest.

After the storm, the family showed up with potatoes, beets and only a few other hardy items. A heartbreaking sight. Now, a month later, things seem better. Mesclun is back. The cucumbers and kombucha squash are terrific. And there are plenty of radishes, a fast-growing crop that’s sold by the bunch.

Sophie says that most radish customers ask her to twist off the green tops, which she throws away. A few weeks ago, I asked her to save them for me. Guess what — she’d NEVER eaten them, not even once. But this past Saturday, I cooked some for her. She took a bite. Then another.

Sophie, just after tasting radish greens from the plastic container in her hands. Plastic white shopping bags are looped over her arm. She's ready to move merchandise.

Sophie’s reaction to radish greens: “Wonderful!”

Plenty of people would agree. Radish greens are lush. Google “recipes for radish greens” to read the raves for the robust color, texture and flavor of these under-appreciated veggies. You’ll also read many laments over the difficulty in getting your hands on enough of this flavor-packed, nutrient-dense treasure. Those who manage to amass enough leaves have a number of choices in the kitchen. Western chefs veer toward the basic saute-in-butter or a puree for cream-based soups. And while Asian cultures cook and pickle all types of radish, it seems that only the Chinese are really known for loving the leaves.

Beyond taste, there’s an outstanding nutritional profile. These calcium-rich greens with anti-cancer properties deliver six times more Vitamin C than the actual radishes, according to EveryNutrient.com. Chinese herbal medicine values radish greens as an aid for circulation and digestion. They are effective at breaking up mucus, phlegm and edema, says expert Jeffrey Yuen, who is a good friend. He adds that someone my size — 5’4″ and 125 pounds — could benefit from half a cup of cooked radish greens a day while the crop is in season.

Now for the recipe….

Prep radish greens just the way you would spinach (even though the taste and texture are different). A few rinses are necessary. Chop the leaves. Or, not. Cooking can be as simple as a saute with some olive oil or butter in a hot pan, over a medium flame. Wilting them is good enough. Or for a smoother chew, cook for 10 minutes, either covered or uncovered. To take down the pungency, a splash of Bragg Liquid Aminos will do the job.

It doesn't get much easier than this.

The sturdy leaves are thicker and more chewy than spinach. They are also more spicy and bitter. Based on my initial experiments, they seem to be a delightful yet assertive team player with other ingredients.

Chopped & stir-fried with sliced radishes, mushrooms, wood ears (a tree fungus) & ground pork. Seasoned with olive oil & Bragg Liquid Aminos. Served with quinoa. Yum. Btw, cooked radishes are very nice too.

So what should Sophie and her family do with their wonderful trash? Hmmm. Let’s say a one-pound bunch of radishes sells for $1.50. Two-thirds of that sale is radish. The other third is leaves. Sophie wanted to give me the greens for free. I insisted on paying $2 per pound. Honestly? If the leaves were unbruised (cut off at the stem instead of twisted off), I’d be happy to pay $2.50 per pound.

I’m pretty sure that Sophie and her family will read this post. Maybe you can offer some consumer feedback. It would be interesting to hear what you have to say from any perspective, whether you plan to eat/cook/buy radish greens or not. What do you think when you hear the phrase “radish tops” or “radish leaves?”

As for me, this is what I’m ready for:

I hope you can tell that she's a radish head. :)

 

P.S. – Update at 11 a.m.: I’m getting a few personal emails asking about dietary/energetic use of radish greens. So let me just post it here. My Chinese medicine go-to guy, Jeffrey, says that radish greens are classified as sweet, spicy and warming. They can get things moving in your system and help with cleaning out liver/blood issues. That’s why they’re good for stimulating circulation. And if you tend to feel cold, eating them in season will be pleasantly warming. In terms of restrictions, he says too much will lead to constipation! For menstruating women, too much can lead to an early period. “Too much” can be defined as eating more than two-thirds of a cup of cooked greens per day for many days. For most people, it will be impossible to even find enough greens to cook half a cup. “Moderation” is the buzzword.   :)

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{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Betty September 27, 2011 at 7:44 am

thanks again to my friend and blogger kian lam kho. i always threw out radish greens until i read his post: “dumpster diving for radish greens.” he turns his bounty into filler for dumplings. http://redcook.net/2011/07/19/dumpster-diving-for-radish-greens/

and a few more words of advice from chinese medicine master jeffrey yuen. he was into locavore decades before the word was even invented. he teaches the importance of eating food in season, and in moderation. since radish greens are energetically spicy, sweet and warming, they can get your system going in all the best possible ways! but gorging on the leafy treats can lead to mild constipation or an early period for women. so be reasonable — which might be hard since these greens are so good. :-)

2 Karen O'Neil September 27, 2011 at 8:42 am

Wow, I am making radish greens today. Very inspiring. For years I’ve been composting the greens and focusing only on the radishes. Thank you!!

3 lee September 27, 2011 at 8:47 am

Thanks for sharing – I am a home gardener, and radishes are probably the easiest thing to grow. I was just never that fond of them, but now I will grow them for the greens instead of the bulbs!

4 Betty September 27, 2011 at 8:51 am

we all have been focusing on the radishes! and we only use them as decoration in salads, right? i recently cooked the radish and leaves separately and then combined them together as a pretty, tasty side dish. i can’t believe what we’ve been missing all these years! another thing — in reading online about radish, many stories say that they grow to maturity in three weeks. isn’t that really fast? and doesn’t that mean a lot of trashed greens? and couldn’t these greens become an incredible specialty item for the gourmet market?

what if the radish were sold at something like half a pound per pre-packaged brown paper bag? there’s another farmer at the market who sells $5, one-pound bags of cremini mushrooms. he doesn’t have to weigh anything so it’s an easy, quick transaction for both buyer and seller.

5 Kian September 27, 2011 at 10:33 am

I eat both the radish and the greens raw in salad or cooked. They are very versatile. I would pay between $1.50 to $2.00 per lb. for the greens. In NYC Chinatown every once in awhile I can find immature daikon with tender greens for sale at about $1.50 a lb. They are wonderful for stir-fry and bun stuffing.

At farmer’s market I do have to buy about three bunches of red globe radishes to get enough greens for a stir-fry. But like Betty suggested the radishes can be in other ways as salad or side dish. I sometime flash pickle the radishes in a sweet and sour brine as a cold dish in a Chinese meal.

The problem with packaging radish greens is that they deteriorate very quickly. So it is difficult to market the greens separately without having large spoilage problem. In fact I would suggest buying radishes with greens attached then immediately used them when you get home. Cut off greens usually don’t last very long.

6 Betty September 27, 2011 at 10:38 am

hey, kian, this is super-helpful. thank you! for those of you who haven’t met kian, he has a great classic chinese cooking blog: http://redcook.net/ he also teaches at institute for culinary education in lower manhattan. i took one of his classes and he’s a pro. the classroom was amazing too: http://bettymingliu.com/2010/10/making-chinese-dumplings-with-kian-lam-kho-at-the-institute-of-culinary-education/. xo

7 Madeline September 27, 2011 at 10:52 am

What a sweet post. So cute of you to cook some greens to share with Sophie. Yes – leafy greens are nutritious and delicious. I love the resourcefulness behind Chinese cooking.

8 Stephanie September 28, 2011 at 10:50 pm

Ah, so wonderful to see you interacting with radish greens! I’m going to share this recipe with my boyfriend as he is in love with quinoa at the moment. The best part is to hear how you shared your knowledge with Sophie Morgiewicz, your farmer – you’re a budding female farmer yourself! I say this because pre-industrialization, rural women relied on feminine, intimate social networks (just like the one you have with Sophie) to not only survive in rural America, but to thrive and exchange knowledge. In taking those greens home and then bringing them back to Sophie in a new way, you are doing exactly what our foremothers did on their farms before us! And you’ve even fostered a creative way for Sophie to make some more money, prevent waste, and recover from Hurricane Irene. Bravo! :-) Also, Sophie is very lucky to have recovered seamlessly from Irene; it’s refreshing to hear some relatively good news come from that agricultural disaster.

9 Betty September 29, 2011 at 5:10 pm

you know, there’s a real echo quality to blogging. after i put something up here on the website, it kinda takes on its own life in my life. and madeline, this idea of resourcefulness reminds me of my dad. his parents were poor farming folk in southern china. they immigrated to south vietnam. he grew up in what was then saigon.

my dad used to guilt me into eating my veggies with poverty stories. his favorite one was about his family being so poor that his mom would send him to the local cemetery to pick weeds that she would cook for their dinner. sound familiar?

and steph, thanks for your insights! i’ve learned so much from your blog, http://legumeloyalist.com/. everyone, stephanie is one of my former nyu undergraduate journalism majors. she’s graduating any day now. her dream is to be a female farmer. the new feminism. fascinating.

10 Betty September 30, 2011 at 10:42 pm

btw, one of my st. johns students is from the goshen area. she takes issue with the description of her hometown being described as “upstate.” well, she’s right. it’s actually in the hudson valley, which is hardly upstate.

but we had a nice talk about the provincial mentality of new york city folk. to them (and i was one of them for most of my life!), anything north of the bronx is considered “upstate.”

11 Tom Paine July 30, 2012 at 11:02 am

“I’d be happy to pay $2.50 a pound.”

You, ma’am, are the bane of true sustainability, you insufferable yuppie foodie.

12 betty ming liu July 30, 2012 at 11:27 am

Aw, Tom Paine, can’t we all get along? :)

Seriously, I appreciate that you stopped by to comment. I also feel it’s important to pay the farmers for their labor, even it’s a little pricey.

13 Barbara Kelly September 17, 2012 at 9:43 am

Naturally, I came upon this just after discarding the wilted and soggy radish greens that I had kept in the hopes of figuring out what to do with them! next time, though, they’ll be saute’d and served over pasta.

14 betty ming liu September 17, 2012 at 8:02 pm

Barbara, there’s always next time! Btw, after I did this post, the farmer stopped giving me discarded radish greens because…everyone who bought radishes decided to keep the tops!

15 Garden Lily June 13, 2013 at 1:42 am

I am growing radishes for the first time this year, so was curious whether I could use the greens. I’m anxious to try. They just started sprouting yesterday.

16 betty ming liu June 13, 2013 at 10:34 am

Garden Lily, I think you’ll possibly LOVE the greens. I envy the fact that you will pick them right out of your garden! Just one word of caution…the greens rot really quickly. They will not keep long. Based on my experience, they start to go bad after only a few days. But if you eat them right away, they are heaven!

Also, just checked out the link to your blog and I am charmed. So I’m sharing the link to one of your posts, which features photos of your beautiful bird quilt. http://ffpquiltcorner.blogspot.com/2012/07/i-finished-it-is-both-hardest-and-most.html

17 John Chandler June 15, 2013 at 12:46 pm

With the help of a PVC hothouse that starts veggies in March, we are on our second planting of radishes and the tops are huge. Now to figure out how to can the way my mother used to.

18 betty ming liu June 15, 2013 at 3:57 pm

Huge tops? I’m so jealous! And pickled radish greens, mmmm. When do you invite us over? If you ever figure this out, and feel inclined to stop by, would love for you to give us an update. Thanks for visiting!

19 Penny June 21, 2013 at 11:57 pm

I ended up with greens from my farmer’s market radishes and found your blog while searching for ideas on how to use them. I cant wait for dinner tomorrow!

20 betty ming liu June 25, 2013 at 5:06 am

Penny, thanks for stopping by and taking the time to drop me a line. Hope you had a fab dinner!

21 RachH July 7, 2013 at 8:00 pm

I found this post on a hunt to figure out whether radish greens would work okay in a stir fried noodle sort of dish, and boy howdy, do they ever! Gorgeous color, they wilt beautifully, and now I’m sad that all we have left are the radishes themselves, haha! Thank you for your post and for sharing your knowledge with us!

22 betty ming liu July 7, 2013 at 9:34 pm

Glad the dish worked out, RachH! Aren’t they delicious? I made some last night too. And I also feel stuck now, with radishes. They are actually very tasty sliced and stir-fried; they get very turnip-y.But I think I’ll juice them later this week. Thanks for stopping by!

23 NewToGardening August 21, 2013 at 9:12 pm

I grew radishes for the first time this summer, and when they came 10 days earlier than expected, had to pickle a bunch. I’m glad I could eat those greens.

I didn’t really find them “spicy” like most people say…just flavorful (unlike lettuce). I grew “Pink Beauty” radishes, which are less spicy than red. I also grew “White Hailstone” and can’t tell any difference in taste of the greens.

Thank you for the information from your nutrition expert. I found 2 different posts (AFTER I ate the greens), that said, “but don’t eat too much!” with no explanation. I was worried I would get sick.

So 1/2 cup COOKED greens is the limit for a small person, correct? I assume, since I just eat enough leaves for a salad (with radishes and/or other veggies) I’m probably eating less than that.

Also, I don’t just put a few young leaves in salad — I don’t have lettuce yet — the radish leaves ARE the salad bed. I actually like the taste better than lettuce.

Don’t worry if the stems (even backs of some leaves) feel a little “prickly.” They’re not thorns, more like prickly hairs, and you don’t taste them so much as feel them with your fingers. They tickle your lips a little. I just rip the leaves from their center stems, except for the smallest, I use whole. YUMMY!

24 betty ming liu August 22, 2013 at 7:50 am

Yes, NewtoGardening, half a cup of cooked greens is about right for a small person. I’m 5’4″, if that helps. Thanks for sharing your experiences!

25 Jessica seigel October 27, 2013 at 12:21 pm

Hi Betty, It’s crazy to bump into your radish top post and not just at NYU. The farmer at my farmer’s market in Greenwich Village, a Japanese lady, told me to parboil them before pan frying, and I did. Wanted to know if I can just dump it all into a squash-cabbage soup I’m making. AFter just the parboiling it was totally tasteless so need to get with the program. What a small raddishy world it is. (BTW, these radishes are giant pinkish purple– the farmer says from a patented Japanese seed you can’t get anywhere else in the U.S.) Delicious.

26 betty ming liu October 27, 2013 at 4:04 pm

Jessica! You didn’t know I was the queen of radish greens? Haha! This is just my personal thing but I never parboil for fear of losing nutrients. But beyond that, the radish greens in my house get treated like every other dark-ish, leaf-ish green (kale, spinach, chard, bok choy, broccoli rabe, dandlion). All I do is heat up a pan, drizzle some olive oil, and once the oil is hot, toss in the greens until they wilt to a point that suits my taste buds.

So if you tend to dump dark greens in soup, then why not just dump in the greens? I cook a little in olive oil for the added flavor. That’s the only reason.

Your radishes sound delish. Good luck with your greens! xo.

27 Jean P January 31, 2014 at 5:45 pm

I am a radish greens lover and have been using them for some time, but mostly in a radish top soup and up until now, always the red radishes. I bought my first bundle of daikon radish greens and am eager to use them and find out how they compare. When I did a little taste test the greens seem a bit less assertive than the red ones—we’ll see……now I just need to decide how I want to prepare them :)

28 betty ming liu February 1, 2014 at 8:58 am

Jean P, I’ve just started cooking with daikon greens! Seemed like such a waste to toss them. They made me a little nervous because even though they are beautiful to look at, they have a thick stem. I haven’t gotten up the nerve to eat them the way I do with red radish greens. But I’ve been using them in soup and found that they add a GREAT dimension of flavor. For this, I’ve been chopping them up — including the stems — and cooking them briefly in a little olive oil (it’s an abbreviated version of the basic radish greens recipe on this blog). After that, I add all my soup ingredients and bring to a simmer.

But you make a good point….why can’t I cook the daikon greens a bit longer and eat them the way I eat radish greens? Will definitely give that a go with my next purchase. Thanks for the inspiration!

29 LJ Grant March 20, 2014 at 7:26 pm

Hi!
I bought a sweet looking bunch of red globe radishes two day ago and couldn’t bear to throw out the beautiful green leaves. So, off to the Oracle at Delphi (whoops, Google) to see if I could use them like the other deep greens (kale, collards, mustard, arugula, chard) and I found my way here! Most wonderful post, even if I’m not exactly being objective.

You have answered my unasked question perfectly and what I read made me want to explore your blog even more. Tomorrow’s lunch will be… olive oil and radish greens! I have only a small amount and not much time, but one small step for me now, an unfolding path ahead of me. How delightful to find a few others walking the same leafy lane!

30 betty ming liu March 20, 2014 at 9:05 pm

LJ, thanks for dropping by! I have a bunch in my fridge too. They cook down to one tiny little portion. But so delish! I will have mine tomorrow. Thanks for the reminder.

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