Spring Watermelons

Spring Watermelons?

The first time I heard about watermelon radishes, I was intrigued.  How could they get a radish to be red on the inside, with a white rind and a green skin, without genetic engineering?   Who wouldn’t want to grow a radish that looks just like a watermelon?    I chose the watermelon radish in my very next seed order and I couldn’t wait for them to grow large enough to show off that next potluck salad.

I was disappointed with my first watermelon radish crop.  The radishes were variable in size, and although they had the nice bright color of a watermelon inside, they didn’t taste like them.  Some of the radishes didn’t develop as strong a red color as the others.  I didn’t know when I ordered the seed that watermelon radishes are a type of daikon, and much different than the typical radishes we grow in the USA for our salads.  They are crunchy, but the texture is denser, like that of a carrot, not crispy like a salad radish or like watermelon.  Even after peeling the greenish-white skin, there is a white outer later that is tough.  The radish rounds were hard to slice and after sitting awhile, they curled up and were too chewy to eat, very similar to a raw beet.  Edible, technically, but great only for a raw food diet in my opinion.  Daikon radishes are usually cooked or pickled, but the bright pink color of the watermelon radish made it unappetizing in a soup or stew.  What to do with them all?  It is a good thing that daikon radishes last so long in the back of the fridge, because that is where they stayed for a while until I figured out the best way to prepare and enjoy them.

Since then, I have seen the watermelon radishes at the farmer’s market and decided to give them another try.  Once I got past the idea that they didn’t mimic the texture of watermelon, I found better ways to use them, and now I look forward to the time of year when they grow their best and they can be found for sale at the farmer’s market.

It is a little late in the season to plant your own watermelon radishes, but they are still available at farmer’s markets.  The seeds aren’t as common yet, so you will probably have to order them online or by mail.  Order the seeds now, before the seed companies run out, and plant them in October through December for a fall and winter crop.  If you see them at the farmer’s market, choose carefully.  Radishes are related to turnips and it can be hard to tell the difference between the roots until you cut them open.

Next up:  My favorite recipe with watermelon radishes.

Watermelon Relish Recipe

I tried this recipe a dozen different ways, adding this and that, but always came back to the basics.  No salt, no other flavorings, just the fresh clean citrus burst and the crunch and bright color of the watermelon radish.  I think you will find that once you are growing and eating your own food, the minimalist approach is the best for showcasing the fresh and seasonal flavors.

This relish has just two ingredients.  I think it works well on a burger or on a turkey breast sandwich.  Make it ahead of time and put it on sandwiches just before eating.  Watermelon is hot and stinky like other daikon radishes.   It goes better with a chick’n-type vegetarian patty instead of the vegetarian patties made with mushrooms or cheese.

1 large watermelon radish

1-2 kumquats

Peel the outer skin off the radish, trim the top, and then cut away the white outer part, leaving the reddish inner part.  Grate the radish using a medium grater.  Cut the kumquat in half and remove the seeds.  Slice the kumquat into slivers with a very sharp knife so that the slices aren’t smashed.  Add the sliced kumquat and any juice to the shredded radish.  Mix well.  The color of the radish will change from a reddish burgundy to a bright pink.  If it doesn’t turn to that color, add another sliced kumquat.  Chill in the fridge for at least a half hour.  This relish will last for several days.

It is important to add an acid to the radishes to bring out their color.  If you haven’t harvested kumquats yet, you can use finely sliced tangerine sections or a small amount of orange juice.



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