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What's that vegetable? The stunning watermelon radish

During winter in the Northeast, farmers markets are not very colorful places. It’s mainly a lot of root vegetables in shades of brown and washed out yellows and greens. However, hidden among the rutabagas, turnips and winter squashes is one of the most colorful pieces of produce around: the watermelon radish. You won’t be able to tell by looking at it, since the skin is a whitish green color,
Michelle Hainer

During winter in the Northeast, farmers markets are not very colorful places. It’s mainly a lot of root vegetables in shades of brown and washed out yellows and greens. However, hidden among the rutabagas, turnips and winter squashes is one of the most colorful pieces of produce around: the watermelon radish. You won’t be able to tell by looking at it, since the skin is a whitish green color, but slice into one of these babies and you’ll find its brilliant pink/red interior, not unlike that of a watermelon.

The watermelon radish is an heirloom variety of the daikon radish and may also be known as a shinrimei, Asian red meat or beauty heart among other names. It has a crisp peppery flavor, but is milder and a little sweeter than your typical radish. I’m not a huge radish fan, but when I bit into a slice of this veggie I was pleasantly surprised. It has a satisfying crunch and was sweeter than I expected it to be.

I thought I might make chips out of my radish since I saw a recipe for doing so online, but the radish had such a crisp texture, it seemed a shame not to leave it raw. A couple of months ago I came across a grain salad recipe that called for a watermelon radish. Court Street Grocers in Brooklyn, N.Y., created the salad and it was seriously one of the most flavorful I’ve ever eaten. Truly, truly delightful. But the ingredients list is long, so I decided I would do a simpler version for dinner. (Though if you have the time, you should totally make the above version at least once. You won’t be sorry).

Michelle Hainer

In my pantry I had wheat berry, a scant quarter cup of farro, beets and butternut squash. Hmm…that could be the makings of a yummy, hearty side dish. I put them all together, added some ricotta salata, aged balsamic vinegar, walnut oil and salt and pepper. If you don’t have all of these ingredients feel free to omit whatever you’re missing. You could also use barley or even quinoa if that’s your grain of choice. Enjoy!

Wheat berry with butternut squash, watermelon radish and beets

  • 1 cup wheat berry
  • ¼ cup farro (optional)
  • 2 cups butternut squash, peeled, cubed and roasted
  • 1 small beet, peeled and roasted
  • ½ of a large watermelon radish, sliced thin and then sliced again cross wise
  • ½ red onion, sliced and roasted
  • ¼ cup ricotta salata, crumbled
  • Walnut oil
  • Good quality aged balsamic vinegar (the best you can afford. It really does make a difference.)
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Wrap the beets in foil and roast until fork tender, about 1 hour. Let cool, then peel and slice. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add grains and cook for 35 minutes. (The wheat berry should be chewy). Drain and set aside to cool. Cube the squash, slice the onions and drizzle with olive oil and salt and pepper. Place on a baking sheet and roast until the squash are fork tender, about 20-25 minutes. (If you have room, throw them in with the beets). Slice the radish, crumble the ricotta salata and add both to the grains and veggies. Drizzle with walnut oil and aged balsamic to taste and season with salt and pepper. This salad can be served at room temperature or even cold.

 **Note: I took this picture before I mixed the salad because I loved how the vivid colors of the radish, squash and beets came together. But you should gently toss before serving.