Since I started to explore new recipes and ingredients from around the world more seriously over the last couple of years through this blog, one vegetable that I’ve discovered has become a real staple of my shopping basket. The mooli or daikon (depending on what language you prefer to use) is a large, Asian variety of white-skinned radish and has become something I eat quite regularly. While it doesn’t hugely lend itself all that well to Western cuisines, its common across Asia from India to Japan and I’ve been really impressed by its versatility.
A close relative of our own pink and peppery radish, Asian radishes vary in size and shape from small ‘icicle’ and ‘ponytail’ varieties grown in the summer to the larger, carrot-shaped mooli and daikon and green-skinned, rounder Korean varieties that are grown in the winter months. They have a much milder flavour than our own radishes too (with any pepperiness concentrated in the skin) but retain the crisp and refreshing texture. Because of their heat, small European radishes are only good for eating raw — like all members of the cabbage and mustard family to which radishes belong, the chemical responsible for their pepperiness contains sulphur, so when cooked, they lose their heat and instead take on a less pleasant and sour flavour. The milder white radishes, peeled, can be cooked.
Raw radish is a great addition to salads because of it’s crunch, such as in Meera Sodha’s Jaipur slaw. The Japanese commonly enjoy daikon pickled and stained red or yellow to serve with miso soup or katsu curry and in Korea, like almost every vegetable, the local radish varieties are fermented with chilli, garlic, ginger and spring onions to make kkakdugi or other kinds of radish kimchi.
Cooked white radish is typically found in stews or braised dishes. Miraculously, it doesn’t holds it’s shape and retains some bite no matter how long you cook it for, and it will soak up whatever flavours you simmer it with (I like to braise it until tender with soy and honey as a great Asian side dish). In many East Asian stews — a selection of dishes I think deserves far more attention than they get otherwise — daikon makes an appearance in the same way we might use potatoes in the UK, and as they’re high in fibre rather than starches, they might be a great alternative in such dishes for anyone looking to eat fewer carbohydrates.
Asian radishes are generally available all year round from Indian and East Asian shops, but from my experiences are always best in the winter months like most root vegetables. They also make the occasional appearance in most mainstream UK supermarkets too, labelled as mooli. So if you see them next time you’re shopping, I definitely recommend giving them a try.