This week's look at what's new, bountiful or even mysterious in the produce aisle.
That's not an albino carrot on steroids. It's a daikon. This juicy member of the radish family, also known as Japanese radish, icicle radish and lo pak, is widely used in Asian cuisines raw, cooked and pickled.
At the sushi bar grated daikon is a traditional companion of raw fish. Chinese chefs know that the daikon's pearly white color and firm flesh make it perfect for carving fancy garnishes.
Daikon has gone mainstream. Here's a crisp root, far milder than a turnip, that diced or sliced adds zip to salads and texture to a stir-fry or soup. Most supermarkets carry these peppery-flavored roots all year long.
How to buy them:
Choose heavy, firm, smooth roots with the top leaves attached, if possible. Good-looking, vibrant green leaves are an excellent indication that the roots were recently harvested. Avoid wrinkled or discolored daikon. They tend to be dry and flavorless.
How to store them:
Daikon radishes lose moisture faster than most root vegetables. So it's best to use them as soon as possible after purchase. If you must save them, refrigerate daikons wrapped in plastic wrap for up to a week in the vegetable crisper.
How to use them:
Fresh raw daikon is excellent in salads. The skin is thin, so it's not necessary to peel. Just scrub and go. Caterers often use peeled, sliced daikon in crudites with a dip and as a base for hors d'oeuvres.
Chefs who cook contemporary American cuisine use daikon every which way. At Rupperts, near Gallery Place/Chinatown, chef John Cochran dresses paper-thin slices of locally grown radishes--black, French breakfast, traditional red and daikon--in a red wine vinaigrette with a little parsley, and serves it with beef or bison.
Damian Salvatore, chef and co-owner of Persimmon in Bethesda, serves a daikon slaw with sauteed soft-shell crab. It's a combination of shredded daikon mixed with jicama, red bell pepper, red onion, snow peas, cucumber and scallions topped with a sweet and tart passion fruit vinaigrette.
At New Heights in Wesley Heights, chef John Wabeck tops barbecued glazed duck and cranberry bean/shiitake mushroom succotash with julienne daikon strips as well as spicy daikon sprouts.
Meanwhile out La Plata way, chef Gary Fick thinks daikon is the perfect foil for fruit. His curried shrimp dish at Casey Jones restaurant consists of jumbo shrimp, jicama, daikon, mango, papaya, pineapple, snow peas and a trio of colorful bell peppers sauteed in olive oil with a curry vinaigrette.