I like radishes. In the spring there’s an explosion of little red globes, followed again three months later by the fall radish boom. But our Minnesota summers make radishes pithy, bitter and hot, so there’s a long pause in radish season, which I find wholly unacceptable. Then I met the daikon radish. Not only is it heat tolerant, staying mild flavored and crisp in our occasional 90 degree heat, but the radishes are HUGE. One short 4 foot row of daikon has produced a dozen two-foot-long, three-inch thick radishes that store well and eat even better. I slice them into crisp salads and chunk them into soups like ramen and pot roast (much better than turnips, in my opinion). But the best recipe I’ve found is making fermented daikon kimchi. Be still my beating heart!
Daikon kimchi is delicious- sour, spicy, crunchy with that twang of umami that sets my mouth a watering. The key to awesome kimchi is two fold, in my opinion. The first is using the right chilies. I tried kimchi with cayenne and was not happy. Cayenne didn’t have that sharp, clean, upfront heat that I like in good kimchi. I’ve had trouble finding Korean chilies, but then I tried Tien Tsin Chinese chilies, the same ones used in the classic Kung Pao dish. (Penzey’s Spices has Tien Tsin online.) They have 60,000 heat units (cayenne has 40,000) and a great, clean, snapping bite that really did the trick in the recipe. The second thing you need is a bit of sugar. This was a revelation to me. The sugar slightly mellows the radish, while kicking the fermentation instantly into overdrive. Within days the kimchi started to taste good and tangy.
So when you’re ready to plant radishes in your garden, put daikon on the seed shopping list. Or pick up some daikon at the co-op or local asian food market. And then make kimchi. While your colleagues might wonder what the hell that smell is coming from the staff fridge, you’ll be in a pickle heaven all your own. Apologies to my colleagues… I have a half gallon of this stuff to get me through the winter.