Watermelon Radishes
PHOTOGRAPH BY JAMES ROPER

When Your Spirit Vegetable Is A Radish

Their spicy bite is perfectly pleasing, if you know how to treat it.

May 15, 2015

I was on a bad first date in Manhattan’s East Village with some guy I’d met on the internet, and in a move straight out of the most improbable of romantic guidebooks, he looked up at me and asked, “If you had to be a vegetable, what vegetable would you be?” I’d never considered the matter before, but as seems to be the case with all of life’s most important realizations, I knew at once—as though I had always known—that I was a radish. There was something about its pinkness and roundness. Its bite.

It made sense, in retrospect. For as long as I’ve had my own kitchen, radishes and I have had a good thing going. Massive, juicy Japanese daikons; slender, sweet French breakfast radishes; dense, crisp Chinese watermelons; even black Spanish radishes, with their outrageous heat—I always have a bunch or two on hand for slicing into salads; curing in a quick, spicy pickle; or roasting until their liquid crunch and brassica tang collapse and condense into something gorgeously creamy and mellow. I’ll serve them alongside softened good butter and a snowdrift of flaky salt for an hors d’oeuvre, or just pull them straight from the crisper drawer for mindless snacking out of hand. In my intermittent forays into gardening, radishes are the first thing I plant: They’re a forgiving crop for a hasty gardener, for one thing, quick to mature and easy to grow organically. When they come into full force each spring, the bright, nourishing bulbs, packed with antioxidants like vitamin C, offer a vivid reward for getting my hands dirty.

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But here’s another thing radishes and I have in common: You either love us or you don’t. We’re not for everyone. Maybe it was me, maybe it was him, maybe it just wasn’t meant to be. Whatever it was, that date ended quickly. But there were other dates, other guys. Not long afterward, I found someone I loved, and he loved me back: pinkness, roundness, bite, and all. We celebrated our marriage with music and dancing and a bounty of food, including—in a radiant pile of magentas and whites—a cornucopia of radishes.

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