A delicious recipe for radish greens

betty ming liu Food 47 Comments

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

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

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.

Here is a shot of 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 but did a taste test to humor me.  :)

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.

Check out the trio of photos below. I start out by chopping, then stir-frying with sliced radishes, mushrooms, wood ears (a tree fungus) and ground pork. This dish is seasoned with olive oil and Bragg Liquid Aminos — a great, gluten-free, alcohol-free, sugar-free substitute for soy sauce that also works well in non-Asian dishes. It’s served here 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:

This is my doodle of a radish. She’s hot, haha!

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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Update, June 14, 2014: Thank you all for making this one of my most popular blog posts! Just thought you’d like to know that shortly after this post ran, Sophie’s customers started keeping the tops. Btw, Sophie’s stand just opened again today for the start of the 2014 season. Of course, I bought a beautiful bunch of radish greens. Welcome back, Sophie!

Comments 47

  1. 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!

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      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!

  2. 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!

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  3. 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.

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      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.

  4. 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 :)

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      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!

  5. 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!

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  7. My mom just bought some radishes and asked me to look up on the computer if we could also eat the greens. I’m glad to see that we can sautee them with butter and garlic. We’ll try it today.

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      Susan, I think you’ll enjoy the greens. Good luck! Meanwhile, I’m trying to get up the nerve to cook carrot top greens. I’ve always thrown them away. But last fall at the farmers market, one of my fellow shoppers told me that they cook up delicious. Will let you know how it goes. :)

  8. I have a 10 member CSA and I had a whole whack of early radishes to deal with! (planted tooo early!) so we are enjoying the greens every which way, soup, simple saute and in salad! As for the radishes….they are currently fermenting and my members (if they are brave) can still enjoy them! I love your sweet blog…you remind me of sark!

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      Oh, you’re so luck, Joleah! I wish I had extra radish greens. Moving on, this week I stir-fried turnip tops. They make for good greens too. And thanks for the feedback — really glad to hear you’re enjoying my blog. :)

  9. Thanks so much for this post. I was pretty sure that radish greens would be edible, but had never heard of anyone who ate them. I bought a beautiful bunch of radish at farmer’s market this week and couldn’t bear to toss the greens without at least researching the possibility. This is going to be a great side for our fried rice tonight. Thank you!

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      You’re welcome, Hope! I just cooked up a batch of radish greens too. During these summer months, the greens at the farmers market just get fuller and greener. Which means more to enjoy. Thanks for dropping by. :)

  10. For the first time in my life I had radish greens for dinner! My organic farming nephew and his Asian wife (from Laos) were selling them at the farmers market in Rolla Missouri and they told me how to cook the greens. I’m in heaven!! They were delicious. I prepared them on the stove top with a piece of well cooked pork, the juices of the meat, one of his organic potatoes, a little garlic powder, a little minced onion a few cherry tomatoes, organic radish greens and served all that over his organic spaghetti squash!!

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  13. just tried those fried raddish greens and oh my were they a treat so friggin GROSS I gagged on the first fork full thanks for the Wonder Filled experience

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      Soumitree, I’m the one who needs to thank YOU for the nice and informative comment! In this comment you’ve taught me so much. Now I know “Bong,” which is great since I recently had my first Bengali student. Maybe I can impress her with my savvy. :)

      I am also intrigued by the recipe link. I would never think to make radish greens with tumeric, onions and mustard seed. You’ve put that in my brain and I’m filing it away for next spring, when the greens are available again. Btw, I saw something else interesting on the link you provided. Cooked potato greens? Never even thought of it! Thanks for all the great ideas!

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