Spring is finally here, and I’ve got a wild craze on for watermelon radishes! At this time of year, they deliver just the level of style, beauty and crunch I’m looking for.
An heirloom Chinese daikon radish – and sometimes much larger and heavier than a conventional radish – the watermelon version is a wonder of taste and color nestled behind an unassuming cloak. In these spring days, cutting into one reveals just that burst of color and fresh taste I’m looking for in any salad that’s likely to inhabit my plate. In fact, I’ve found that most any generic salad is enlivened with the addition.
I like to carefully wash the radishes and slice them paper-thin for any salad. What is revealed is a gorgeous pink and sometimes orange center that somehow tastes fresh, green and very slightly peppery, while being mild and thoroughly delectable anywhere I’ve tossed it. And while I haven't tried it as an addition to something like Holly's divine, tangy German Potato Salad yet, it doesn't mean I'm not game to!
Last spring, my pal Carrington turned me on to something resembling my salad. When I asked her for general ingredients, she responded simply: “Watermelon radishes. Blood oranges. Sea salt. Olive oil.”
Using that as a general rule, I went to town creating endless salads, each one more sprightly than the last. I tried pairing the watermelon radishes with pink grapefruit and regular oranges. I made some with arugula and jicama, and even a smattering of different musky cheeses, dried cranberries and a variety of nuts – everything from pecans to pine nuts.
In the final analysis, this one may be my favorite, which doesn’t stray too far from Carrington’s concise instructions. There’s something so gorgeous about the pairing of the watermelon radishes and the ruby sweet blood oranges. The addition of some toasted pine nuts adds to the allure and crunch, and the easy balsamic vinaigrette that I threw together bathes it all in a perfect, piquant savory dressing.
I’ve found that the watermelon radishes last beautifully unpeeled in my fridge (and even partially used and wrapped in plastic), letting me enjoy them frequently over time. Which is just great with me – in fact, I’m so enamored, I’m thinking that my watermelon radish craze may just carry me through until it’s time for actual watermelon in my summer salads.
CLARE'S WATERMELON RADISH, BLOOD ORANGE AND PINE NUT SALAD
Makes 4 servings
1 large watermelon radish, washed and thinly sliced with a mandoline or sharp paring knife
4 blood oranges (or other citrus), peeled with rind removed, sliced thin
¼ cup pine nuts, saute'ed over medium heat in a dry saucepan until browned
For the vinaigrette:
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
1 teaspoon sugar
Coarse Maldon salt or other sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
Place radishes, blood oranges and toasted pine nuts in a serving bowl.
Make the vinaigrette by combining all ingredients in a small bowl and whisking to emulsify. Pour the dressing over the salad, toss very gently and serve immediately.