Some of us are lucky enough to have friends who are doctors, mechanics, carpenters, or even a massage therapist or two. I’ve recently decided that anyone who works weekends at an organic farmer’s booth and who loves to share bounty from her bottomless market bag is automatically promoted to my own BFF list.
A bonus bunch of super fresh watermelon radish recently found their way into my kitchen through such delicious connections. Aptly named for their vivid red, white and green coloring, these gems call for the simplest of preparations to highlight their fresh, summer flavor and gorgeous hues.
I pulled out my Japanese spiral slicer, a splurge from Kamei in the Inner Richmond, that I use every opportunity I can. In a few minutes, I had twirled a pile of frilly magenta curls. I tossed them with two teaspoons of salt and then left the radish for an hour to give off their liquid. (It was supposed to be half an hour, but well, no one was really counting.)
Next came a quick rinse in cold water. Because I was planning on using only one other ingredient, I dried them as well as possible to prevent any dilution of flavor. The best way, I’ve found, is to scatter the slices in a single layer on a clean towel, roll up the towel, and then wring it firmly until no more water drips out. Ten seconds later, the towel will be very wet, and the vegetables very dry. Near my prep area, I hang two or three towels to use just with food.
Finally, I tossed the radishes with some hot oil I made last month. Since I had rinsed away all the salt and not much had been absorbed by the radish, a light sprinkling of sea salt brought out the flavors of this delicately crisp pickle. This would be perfect with roast chicken, grilled fish or even a seared, peppercorn-crusted pork chop. I ate it with plain rice and a fried egg, the breakfast of Asian champions.
Other vegetables — such as daikon, cucumbers, carrots, broccoli stems, and cabbage — can be similarly crisped and oiled. You can use any chile oil you find in a grocery store, but if you have time, set aside a few minutes to infuse a bit more depth into the plain ones.
Or, for the best flavor, make your own chile oil. With a deeply flavored oil, you won’t even need vinegar, herbs, soy sauce or any other extraneous ingredient between you and the radish.
Chinese Spiced Chile Oil
I like to use grapeseed oil for this, as it has a high smoke point that I can use for cooking, yet is light enough for dressings and table pickles. If you’d like the red color without so much heat, use dried whole cayenne chiles and remove their seeds before adding to the oil. (Remember that once you’ve infused aromatics into the oil, its smoke point is reduced slightly; do not use it for high-heat frying.)
Makes 2 cups.
2 cups grapeseed oil
1/4 cup dried chile flakes
1/2 inch ginger, peeled, crushed and roughly chopped
6 cloves garlic, peeled and halved lengthwise
5 whole star anise flakes
1 teaspoon whole peppercorns
Combine all the ingredients in a small, heavy pan. Place over medium heat and bring to a gentle simmer, stirring once or twice. When small bubbles appear at the edge, remove the pan from the heat and set aside uncovered. When completely cool, cover and leave for two days. Pour through a fine-mesh strainer or coffee filter, then transfer to a clean, dry bottle. Store in a cool, dark place for up to 2 months.