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Daikon: Unearthing The Radish With Soul

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Daikon: Unearthing The Radish With Soul

Food

Daikon: Unearthing The Radish With Soul

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Let's return to the United States now, where we have spent part of this summer sampling what's available at some of America's farmer's markets. And today, we'll explore a vegetable that looks like a kind of albino carrot on steroids. It's not a carrot, not a turnip. It's a radish. Tina Antolini from WFCR in Amherst, Massachusetts tells us about the daikon.

TINA ANTOLINI: Compared to usual cute, rosy radishes, Michael Byrnes says daikon looks a little bit like an alien.

Mr. MICHAEL BYRNES (Daikon Farmer): It's a long, white radish - sometimes as big as your arm, sometimes as big as your leg. Apparently, that's how they grow it in Japan. We find that our customers maybe like it a little bit smaller than leg size.

ANTOLINI: Byrnes is standing in the daikon field where he works. The one he's holding reaches from his fingertips to his elbow, not counting a top of vibrant green leaves.

Byrne's boss, Kazu Yoshimoto, says the daikon's size is what gives it its name.

Mr. KAZU YOSHIMOTO (Owner, Sunbow 5 Foundation Farm): The literal translation is fat root.

ANTOLINI: When Yoshimoto came here from Japan to start Sunbow 5 Foundation Farm, daikon was a must among his crops. Raw, he says, it gives you more oomph than your typical radish.

Mr. YOSHIMOTO: Regular radish may be more mild, soft, you know, gentle to you. But daikon radish, like, beating you or fighting you, like, a little bit sharp. They have lots of energy. More - we call it ki. Ki means spit, or soul.

ANTOLINI: So the daikon has lots of soul?

Mr. YOSHIMOTO: Yeah, yeah. That's right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ANTOLINI: Cooked, he says, it can be more mild and sweet and can go into anything, from stir-fries to soups. The easiest way to enjoy daikon is just slicing it up.

(Soundbite of slicing daikon)

Mr. YOSHIMOTO: I'm peeling off the skin. The skins get a little bit, you know, hard.

(Soundbite of slicing daikon)

ANTOLINI: And dipping it into a little bit of miso paste.

Mr. YOSHIMOTO: Now you eat it.

ANTOLINI: Well, this sort of salty sweetness of miso is really nice for the spicy daikon. The heat kind of blooms in your mouth at the end.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ANTOLINI: Some of that heat is tempered when Yoshimoto makes the traditional daikon pickle, called takuan. It tastes almost like Korean kimchi, with a satisfying crunch. It's made by burying sun-dried daikon in a bucket of salts for months. And when selling it at the farmer's market, Yoshimoto says slices of takuan are a little bit more approachable than a daikon the size of your arm.

For NPR News, I'm Tina Antolini in western Massachusetts.

INSKEEP: You can explore the rest of our Farm Fresh series at the npr.org, where you can also find recipes and share your own.

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