When I remember eating radishes as a child, I think of the ones that came in little plastic baggies at the supermarket. The tops had been long detached, and the remaining roots tended to be hard and flavorless: just a crunchy garnish to scatter on top of an iceberg-lettuce salad.
Deeper in memory, though, I have a sensory recollection of pulling fresh, spicy, juicy radishes out of a vegetable garden’s soil.
What I can’t recall, at any time until I was well into adulthood, is ever eating radish leaves. The supermarket baggie radishes had long been detached from their greens, and as for the garden variety — well, I suppose I just saw the radish leaves as a handle by which one might extract them from the earth.
If you come from a food culture like mine (i.e., mainstream food culture of the midwestern United States in the 80s and 90s), you might never have eaten a radish leaf.
This recipe is a great place to start.
Radish leaf pesto for meal prep
When I get a bunch or two of radishes with bright, fresh leaves, I like to make this pesto right away — that very day, if I can. It only takes a few minutes, so it’s not a chore. Then, later that week, all I have to do is sauté a pint of cherry tomatoes while I prepare the pasta.
Voila! An easy, healthy meal that’s on the table in a flash.
Prepping the pesto ahead of time isn’t just convenient for a quick dinner, though. It also helps to ensure that those healthy little greens don’t go to waste.
While radish roots have a long shelf life compared to other vegetables, the leaves are a different story. They are delicate and bruise easily, which means that they can get slimy or dehydrated if they spend too long in your crisper. Furthermore, the greens stay alive by pulling nutrients from the roots, so the longer they stay attached, the less tasty and nutritious the roots will be.
Fortunately, pesto is an excellent format for extending the life of tender herbs and greens. And you don’t have to use it for this pasta recipe; you can also stir it into soups, use it as a sandwich spread, or blend it into a dip for veggies.
The pesto also freezes well, so it’s no big deal if I’m not planning to have pasta in the next few days. I can just toss it in the freezer, and then take it out to thaw the night before I plan to use it.
Are radish greens healthy?
If you’re not accustomed to using the greens of vegetables like radishes, carrots, or beets, it’s easy to assume that they either don’t have much nutritional value or aren’t edible. After all, why would people habitually discard perfectly good food?
These greens are edible, though. And not only that; they are also delicious and nutritious.
There’s plenty of information out there about the nutritional content of radish roots. But it’s a bit difficult to find a detailed description of the leaves — at least, it’s hard to find that information from a reputable source.
I did some digging though, and I found a 2015 article in Journal of Functional Foods that addresses this very topic. According to the article’s authors, “radish leaves constitute an underutilized leafy vegetable, and practically no information is available on the chemical content…”
So, these researchers set out to assess the nutritional content of radish leaves. They found that radish leaves were far more nutritionally dense than the roots were. In fact, radish greens are an excellent source of minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals. For example, the leaves contain five times the amount of calcium found in radish roots.
Radish greens are also a good source of iron and vitamin C. If you are concerned about getting enough iron in your diet, vitamin C can help the body absorb non-heme (plant-based) iron.
A few notes about cooking with radish greens
Are you feeling hyped about radishes? Good.
Now I’m going to bring you back down a little bit with a few things to keep in mind:
Because many people don’t eat radish tops, growers may use more pesticides than they would for greens that they expect people to consume. If you want to avoid synthetic pesticides, organic radishes may be the best option for you.
The second thing to keep in mind is that radish greens may not be pre-washed. I’ve bought some radish bunches with leaves that were fully caked in mud and grit.
To make sure that you won’t end up with a mouthful of sand, be sure to wash your radish greens very well before using them. The easiest way to do this is to fill a large bowl with water and soak the greens for a while. Change the water and repeat until there’s no grit at the bottom of the bowl.
(If you are concerned about water usage, you can use that H2O to water your houseplants or garden.)
To make this recipe, you will need:
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