3 daikon radish recipes show how versatile this tuber is.
Daikon is the Japanese name for the big white radish. It is called 白萝卜 (bai luo bo) in mandarin hanyu pinyin, and (lo bak) in Cantonese.
It is a tuber that looks like the carrot, except it is whitish in colour. In fact, the carrot is known as 红萝卜 (hong luo bo) which means "red radish".
It contains glucose, cane sugar, fructose, dietary fibre, vitamin C, amino acids, and potassium.
Traditional Chinese medicine practitioners believe that it can help to clear phlegm, stabilize the breath, and is cooling. Children suffering from colds with dry painful throats and rackling cough are encouraged to eat it raw although I do not think they will like the taste.
It contains digestive enzymes such as diastase and amylase that can help break down starch into sugars. It therefore aids digestion and improve metabolism.
It is also affectionately acknowledged as the little ginseng. A Chinese folk saying "冬吃萝卜夏吃姜 不劳医生开药方" which means "Radish in the winter, ginger in the summer, and the doctor's out of business" alluded to its efficacy in dietary therapy, especially during the winter months.
Pick radishes that have nice white, plump and shiny skin. Leaves should be green and plump. Avoid those with shrivelled leaves.
If you are going to keep the daikon for a while, remove the leaves and wrap the cut portion with cling wrap. Wrap the entire radish with newspaper and store in the refrigerator.
The skin can be eaten so wash and scrub thoroughly before cooking. If you want to remove the skin, do so with a peeler like you would with a carrot. However nearly 98% of the calcium in daikon are found in the skin.
Different parts of the radish can taste different. The top part is supposed to be sweeter so it is suitable for grating or used in salads. The tip is spicy and is usually pickled. The middle section contains the most liquid and is commonly used in stews.
It can be sliced, diced, shredded and grated. It is also a great subject for decorative food carving. If using raw, wash thoroughly, cut, slice or shred and let it stand in salt.
Although daikon can be quite spicy, that hasn't stopped people from using it raw in salads. It just has to be pickled first.
The Japanese likes to pickle the daikon. One of the most distinctive pickled products is the yellow pickled slices that are almost always served in Japanese bentos. But cutting them into long thin strips and marinating them in some salt and vinegar is a common way of doing a quick starter. This is also a way to reduce its "bite".
It is also hugely popular grated and it is indispensable in the tempura dipping sauce. The grated radish imparts a certain depth to the thin sauce.
It can be cut into chunks and cooked in soups or stew. After sufficient simmering, it loses its spicy taste and takes on the flavour of the soup or stew it is cooked in. It is popular in stews featuring beef, lamb or mutton. Like the 2 recipes below. I personally like white radish in stews where they are simmered to juicy softness and full of the flavour of the dish.
I almost forgot to mention this, perhaps because this dish has nothing to do with soup. The big white radish is the ingredient in a very popular street food in Singapore: the fried carrot cake 炒萝卜糕 (chao luo bo gao).
The radish is first shredded, mixed with rice flour and steamed into big cakes. These cakes are then diced into small cubes before being fried in a big wok with eggs and with or without sweet black sauce.
I used to have them for Sunday breakfast. There is a really good hawker near my home. He uses a tennis racket to cut his radish cakes. I know, not hygienic.
The third recipe is a clear soup recipe.
People with stomach ulcers or chronic gastric problems do have to be careful not to consume too much daikon. People on medication or taking tonics are also advised to avoid daikon as it might affect the efficacy of the medications.