Here’s how much I love the way I’ve found to prepare radish leaves (and turnip and any other leafy-topped root vegetable): I actually bought FOUR bunches of radishes at the market just so I’d be able to make the recipe and have plenty of it.
I’ve been thinking and talking about radish tops ever since I learned you could cook with them. (Yay! A bunch of bitter greens that come free with the vegetables I bought!) But aside from adding them to soup, hadn’t really found much I wanted to make with them. All the recipes I looked at on the internet seemed complicated or contrived. (Dear Lord, how many root-to-leaf pesto recipes have to be put out there before we just come out and admit that basil pesto beats them all?) What I wanted was an easy, totally satisfying, everyday recipe that would make my radish tops more than just a good intention left to wilt in my crisper drawer.
You will read (as I have read) that radish tops taste like arugula or watercress. This is true, to a point. What no one tells you though is that they’re not as straight-out tasty as arugula or watercress. (If they were, we’d have been eating them all along, right?) Radish leaves are furred and a little prickly, plus their flavor is REALLY peppery, so you can’t just throw them straight into a salad. They don’t keep well either; after a couple of days, they wilt to a sad, yellowy mass that’s only good for a compost pile. You gotta use ‘em quick if you’re gonna use ‘em at all.
Thank heavens, I’ve found a way around all these inconveniences with this recipe. It’s based on a spring turnip recipe from Paula Wolfert’s World of Food, where you cook the turnips and their tops together, then drain off the cooking liquid and simmer them with olive oil, garlic, and tomatoes until the greens are meltingly tender. It seemed like it might work for radish tops, so I gave it a whirl. And…Jackpot! The garlic and tomatoes provided a fragrant, tangy counterpoint to the earthy funkiness of the cooked radish tops. Luscious! But the real game-changer was the draining step. It took away any unpleasant bitterness radish tops can sometimes have. And no more wilting, yellowing leaves in my crisper! Garlic, olive oil, canned tomatoes…I’ve got those ingredients on hand all the time, meaning I can make this recipe as soon as I bring my bunches of radishes home from the market.
This recipe can be used with any type of dark leafy green—it’s wonderful with kale, collards and mustard greens as well, but what really sets it apart is its ability to transform uncommon greens (I bet it would even work with nettles!) into something that’s not just edible, but downright appetizing. Most types of tomato products will work, including fresh, so long as they’re juicy enough to provide some cooking liquid. You can also cook the radishes (halved) with the tops for a more substantial dish. And try topping the cooked radish tops with feta or goat cheese and lots of ground black pepper.
leaves and tender stems from 2 large bunches of radishes (about 4 cups/1 l.), rinsed well
2 tsp. (10 ml.) olive oil
1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced
¾ cup (200 g.) strained tomatoes (such as Pomi) or canned crushed tomatoes
Bring the radish tops and ¾ cup of water to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer, covered 15 minutes. Drain the greens in a colander, and return the saucepan to the burner. Increase the heat to medium, and add the olive oil and garlic. Cook the garlic 30 seconds, or until fragrant. Add the drained greens and the tomatoes. Cover, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer 15 to 20 minutes, or until most of the tomato liquid has evaporated. Season with salt and pepper.