I'm not fortunate enough to have my own garden yet, but the prohibitive cost of out-of-season produce in Japan and the overall emphasis on eating seasonally in this culture gives us a great opportunity to talk to our children about the food choices we make every day. In late spring, young radishes and baby daikon are plentiful and delicious and we use them as much as we can in our meals. I usually make a Korean-style fresh pickled salad out of radishes; it shows off the bright and beautiful colors and lets the natural flavor shine through. A sprinkling of black sesame seeds makes it pop.
Korean Radish salad
Black sesame seeds
Thinly slice radishes, sprinkle lightly with a bit of salt, and let stand for about twenty minutes until the radishes are wilted. Pick up and squeeze handfuls of radish to get rid of excess moisture. Mix together about 2 tablespoons of rice vinegar with 1-2 tsp of sugar until the sugar has dissolved. (To be honest, I don't usually measure, so feel free to adjust these proportions to your liking). Toss the radishes in this mixture. Arrange in a bowl, sprinkle with a few drops of sesame oil, and garnish with black sesame seeds.
Daikon is another kind of radish which is used liberally in Japanese and Korean cooking. Usually it is quite large, but in the spring – and only in the spring – you can find young radishes, mild and sweet enough to crunch on raw. I like to cook them in a mild braised stew with other root vegetables. Admittedly, some of the vegetables in the photo below are not spring vegetables – Japanese sweet potato, for instance, is a fall food – but I love the contrast of many different vegetables together in one bowl.
Root vegetable stew, Japanese-style
An assortment of vegetables (some suggestions: carrot, potato, daikon radish, sweet potato, gobo (burdock root), renkon (lotus root), bamboo shoots, broccoli, spring peas, asparagus)
Chicken or tofu
5 T Soy sauce
3 T Mirin (sweet rice wine)
2 tsp Sugar
2 T Sake (regular rice wine)
Peel, and then cut vegetables into roughly 1-inch sized chunks. (If you have baby vegetables, leave them whole, but peel/scrub as necessary). Cut chicken and/or tofu in similar-sized chunks as well. If using chicken, saute in a medium sized saucepan till browned. Add vegetables and tofu to the pot and fill about halfway with water. (If you are using green or tender vegetables such as broccoli or spring peas, set aside for now – you'll add them in when the stew is nearly done so that they stay nice and green).
Boil for about 5 minutes, then add the soy sauce, mirin, sugar, and sake, plus enough water that the vegetables are nearly covered. Continue to boil at a medium heat, partly covered, until the vegetables are cooked through, then add any green vegetables you will use, cover with a lid, and cook until they are just cooked through. Adjust and increase seasonings as necessary.