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Looks like a watermelon, tastes… nothing like a watermelon

In what I am convinced has become an effort to decrease the amount of lawn to mow, my dad has created sort of a victory garden in the backyard of my parents’ house that stretches about 15 (maybe 20) feet wide by 8 feet deep. In the garden is a motley crew of surprisingly healthy-looking vegetables (surprising only because of dad’s relative lack of gardening experience), ranging from cabbages to tomatoes to kohlrabi (Never had it? You must try it — a deliciously crunchy, mild, radish-like vegetable that makes an excellent snack with some salt).

watermelon radish

Photo credit: Leighadactyl on Flickr

I’m familiar with most of the produce that the garden holds, but you could color me bewildered when my lanky, 6’4″ father walked in the house with a gnarly looking, faded green root vegetable about the size of a grapefruit. He then hacked it open to reveal some of the most vibrant, beautiful magenta flesh I had ever seen. It was a watermelon radish, he explained, and warned me that they had a kick straight from the garden (they mellow in the refrigerator). Expecting the usual ankle-biting radish flavor, I ate a slice of the crisp pink vegetable and was promptly treated to a robust, peppery flavor that was about 10 times more potent as your average pink on the outside, white on the inside radish.

I honestly didn’t know what to make of it at first. I like spicy food, but radishes aren’t necessarily my thing — I prefer the heat of a jalapeño or chipotle pepper to the more pungent flavor of a radish. Nevertheless, I was intrigued by this green-and-pink behemoth that my dad had brought me, and after some contemplation, decided that I wanted to pickle it. I haven’t met a single vegetable that I didn’t enjoy pickled, and I thought a little more acidity to the watermelon radish would pair well with its spiciness. Plus, I had been wanting to try pickling something for some time and figured now was as good of a time as any to do so. I perused several recipes for an acceptable “pickling juice” — not too sweet (many pickling recipes have appalling amounts of sugar), with some interesting spices, and happened across one from Bobby Flay that seemed the least “sweet” by far.

Pickled radish spears in jars

They turned the brine hot pink!

The end result of the pickling turned out to be a bit of a mixed bag, though. While I aimed for very sour pickle, I think the pickling juice needed a bit more water or sugar to mellow it out — the vinegar flavor was a bit much, even for me. When I came back to my parents’ house after a week’s vacation, though, it seemed like the radish sticks (I did matchsticks instead of slices because, well, I felt like it) had sort of reached an equilibrium with the pickling juice to be both vinegar-sour and radish-pungent (though still a bit sharp smelling and tasting from the vinegar).

If I had to do the recipe over again (and I probably will), I would add at least another tablespoon or two of sugar and 1/4 to 1/2 cup of water to the brine. I had also hoped the original watermelon radish would retain its bite, but pickling it made it actually less spicy. Does anyone know of anything you can add to pickling liquid to keep your veggies spicy? More garlic or peppercorns? Actual jalapeño slices? Lastly, what’s your favorite pickled vegetable? I love small marinated pieces of broccoli and cauliflower in homemade salad dressing, but my go-to pickled vegetables are usually banana peppers or pepperoncini.

Bobby Flay’s Dill Pickles

From Food & Wine Magazine

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups distilled white vinegar
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 4 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 3/4 teaspoon dill seeds
  • 2 cups hot water
  • 2 pounds kirby cucumbers, sliced 1/4 inch thick (Again, I chose to do radish “matchsticks” that were about 1/4 inch wide)
  • 3/4 cup coarsely chopped dill (I didn’t have this, so I omitted it)
  • 3 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped

Directions

In a large, heatproof measuring cup, combine the vinegar, sugar, salt, mustard seeds, coriander seeds and dill seeds with the hot water and stir until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Let the brine cool.

In a large bowl, toss the cucumbers with the dill and garlic. Pour the brine over the cucumbers and turn to coat. Place a small plate over the cucumbers to keep them submerged, then cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Refrigerate the pickles overnight, stirring once or twice. Serve cold. (I just poured my brine over the radishes in the jars, made sure they were submerged and then stuck them in the refrigerator — seemed to work fine.)

Radish photo credit: Leighadactyl on Flickr

4 Responses to Looks like a watermelon, tastes… nothing like a watermelon

  1. Is that also called a “beauty heart radish”? Because I love, love them, and will definitely try that recipe. Nom. Wish I knew how to keep things spicy; when I’ve pickled red onions, I’ve found I can put in a whole lot of jalapeños and they just go mild. Maybe pepper flakes or chili oil?

    This is my favorite pickled beet recipe (warning: self-ish-link).

  2. I’m pretty sure it is also called a beauty heart radish — they are totally gorgeous. I was thinking about adding red pepper flakes in my next batch of pickles — I’ll let you know how they work out.

    Is that beet recipe really sweet? I was scared off of a lot of pickle recipes because of the sugar, but I think pickles may need more sugar than I realize. Beets are naturally sweeter than radishes, though, so I’m sure a sweet pickle makes more sense anyway.

  3. Yes, I find myself using less sugar, actually. And hey, check it out! Do you read CakeWalk?

  4. [...] radish), peeled, cut into 1-inch pieces – I realized after chopping that my daikon was actually the strawberry kind, which accounts for the pink-ness of my finished [...]

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