Chinese white radish is also known as Chinese icicle radish, as mooli, or by its Japanese name, daikon. It is long and white and rather like a carrot in shape but usually much larger. It is a winter radish or root and can withstand long cooking without disintegrating. It thus absorbs the flavours of the food it is cooked with and yet retains its distinctive radish taste and texture. In China, these radishes are usually found in homemade dishes, treated as Western cooks use potatoes or carrots, and the texture is crisp and tender after cooking. They are never used without being peeled. In addition to being cooked they are also pickled or salted and dried to preserve them.
White radishes vary in flavour from sweet and mild to hot and pungent. The stronger flavoured variety is used for pickles, the milder for cooking. The hot flavour is in the skin so, when peeled, the radish is mild tasting. Like turnips, these radishes are most often stir-fried, braised, boiled, or steamed and then combined with pork or beef. The milder radish can even be made into a savoury pudding for dim sum in southern China. Unlike most root vegetables, these radishes are light and refreshing, not heavy and starchy.
In ancient times, the white radish was valued both as a food and as a medicine – although some avoided it because it allegedly induced hiccups.
Look for firm, heavy, solid, unblemished radishes. They should be slightly translucent inside, with smooth skin. Avoid very large ones which tend to be fibrous. You can find them in some supermarkets and almost always at Chinese or Asian markets
Store in a plastic bag in the vegetable crisper of your refrigerator. They will keep for at least 1 week.
Use as you would turnips, carrots, or potatoes. White radishes absorb the sauces in which they are cooked as they become tender.
© Ken Hom and reproduced with his kind permission.