The other day I was at lunch in BCS (that is Bryan-College Station for all you non-Aggies out there) with several Masters of Horticulture. We were talking about our gardens and I mentioned that my daikon were doing really well. To my surprise, not a single one of these PhD Horticulturists knew what a daikon was. I found this somewhat amusing but I guess if you do not eat a lot of Asian food, then you would have no reason to know about daikon.
If you are not familiar with daikon, here is a little background. They are a root crop much like carrots or parsnips. In fact, the Japanese translation of their name means “large root”. Daikon is a radish and it is a staple of Japanese food. They cook it, pickle it, stir fry it, stew it and eat it raw. The Chinese, Koreans and Indians also eat a lot of this spicy root. The greens are also edible. One reason it is so popular in the Far East is it’s storage capabilities. Unbruised daikon can stay fresh for three months in a root cellar. When dried, they can last much longer. This allows the Japanese to have a ready supply of a vitamin C throughout the long winters. There are more acres of daikon in production in Japan than any other vegetable.
There are two varieties of daikon. One looks like a big turnip and can grow to 100 pounds. However, the one that I grow is much more common. Raphanus sativus var. longipinnatus is a long white root that resembles a carrot. It has white flesh and skin. It can grow to lengths of 36” but is most often harvested when it is between 12” to 18” long and the diameter is between “1” and 2”. Summer diakon have a sharper and spicier flavor than fall diakon. Also, the taste of the daikon changes as you progress up the stalk. The hottest (and most radish-ey tasting) part is near the tip. The flavor becomes milder as you move up the root toward the greens.
Daikon are very easy to grow. They like rich, loose soil and full sun. Plant at the same time as you plant other root crops. They actually work best as a fall vegetable but do quite well in the spring. Since they produce roots that weigh over a pound, a small amount of space will provide you with lots of radish.
I work with several Indian and Chinese ex-pats so I grow enough to share. This year, one of my friends took some home and had his wife make me pickles. They are AWESOME!!!! I have enjoyed these pickles so much that I am including the recipe here. It is a simple and delicious recipe that will make a perfect side for all of your outdoor summer grilling. Hope you enjoy!
Debbie Kwan’s Daikon Pickles
Slice the daikon and sprinkle with about 1 tsp of salt. Use your hands to knead the vegetables for about 3 minutes. Place in fridge and wait about 15-30min until water has been expelled. Drain in a colander and rinse under cold running water, then press gently to expel extra water.
Combine 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup rice vinegar and 1/2 cup of water in a pot on low heat until the sugar has dissolved. Let cool then pour over the daikon. The brine should cover the daikon. Add peppers of your choice to make it spicy. Let it marinate in the brine for at least 1 day before eating. They will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3-4 weeks.