If you’ve been shopping in Maido’s produce section, chances are you’ve seen a daikon radish. Resembling a large, white carrot, the daikon radish is a remarkably versatile staple in terms of Japanese cooking. Daikon radishes have a mild, ever-so slightly spicy taste combined with a crisp, watery texture when raw. They are usually ground, or thinly sliced into strips and paired with soy sauce when served in their uncooked state.
Cooked, daikon radish takes on the flavors of whatever its being prepared with, making it a perfect ingredient in simmered dishes like nabe and oden. Daikon radishes are also very easy to pickle, and can be preserved in a number of ways. One of the most popular daikon pickles is called Takuan, named after the buddhist monk who invented them. Takuan-zuke are bright yellow and have a sweet and very salty flavor, combined with a springy and crunchy texture making them an ideal component in vegan or vegetarian sushi.
In addition to having delicious roots, the leaves of the daikon plant are also edible. Daikon leaves have a slightly bitter, mildly spicy flavor somewhat similar to mustard greens. They are high in fiber and rich in micronutrients such as vitamin C, potassium, vitamin A and manganese. They work exceptionally well chopped and tossed into a stir-fry or soup, or pickled, but are too fibrous to really eat raw. Daikon leaves can be very easily made into a delicious furikake, or rice seasoning, by chopping finely and lightly pan-frying with sesame, soy sauce and mirin.
When purchasing a daikon, look for one that is white or off-white in color, firm to the touch, and somewhat heavy for its size. This ensures that your daikon will have a nice crisp, but moist texture and not be mealy. Since they are a root vegetable, daikon radishes can be stored in the refrigerator for some time-- easily over two weeks-- but it is advisable to use them within a week after they have been cut. Daikon leaves should be stored separately from the root of the vegetable, and usually keep for about 5 days after they have been removed from the root. At Maido, our best daikon, fresh from Suzuki Farm in Delaware, arrive during late summer (around the end of August) and continue to be available through the end of December. Daikon leaves come free in our store with the purchase of a daikon root, but are packaged separately from each other for storage longevity. Be sure to check our produce section on your next visit for daikon radishes and leaves!