Monday, March 26, 2012

Raw radish threads with scallion oil

Sometimes when I try a new recipe or dish, I am surprised. 

More times than I like to remember, it's because it tastes truly awful, and other times the recipe needs serious tweaking before it is good enough to make again. 

Occasionally, though, the dish turns out to be so spectacular first time around that I'm flummoxed, because just looking at the ingredients gives no clue as to what is in store. 

This is one such dish. It caught my eye when I was rearranging up my cookbook shelves. An old 70's paperback by Huang Shaomo (writing under the pseudonym Yunlinyisou) called Zhongguo mingcai caozuofa (How to make famous Chinese dishes) listed this as its first recipe. 

Radish & my trusty grater
I had never heard of it before, but it looked oddly intriguing, and the fact that Mr. Huang started out his book with it lent it a certain importance. After making it, I discovered why: it's brilliant.

This simple appetizer or side dish manages to contain the essence of Jiangsu province's home-style cooking, where the humblest ingredients are polished to a delectable shine and then enjoyed without artifice or excessive foofing up.

In Chinese this dish is called Radish Threads with Scallion Oil, a deceptively nondescript name, but it really is little more than shredded raw radish topped with green onions and hot oil. The original recipe calls for the football-shaped Chinese radish, but you can use Chinese icicle radish or even colored radishes, for that matter.

Shredded radish
I know that I go on and on about balance and yin and yang and all of that, but it's a truth about Chinese cuisine than just cannot be denied, because (to my mind, at least) that is where the genius of her greatest dishes lies.

Here we have bits of green contrasting with snowy white, soft against crisp, cooked along with raw, salty rubbing up against a pile of sweetness. It's a stunning study in using the minimum number of common ingredients to create the maximum amount of impact.

Right now before spring heats up is the time to enjoy the last of the cold weather vegetables. Chinese radishes are still at their peak, but before long they'll start getting dry and woody, so think about trying out this recipe while you can. 

A happy surprise
It's best started at least a couple of hours before you want to serve it so that the radish threads have a chance to chill, and then you can enjoy it alongside anything rich and savory, like Smoked Chicken or Soy Braised Yellowtail Collar. Your taste buds will thank you.

Raw radish threads with scallion oil 
Congyou bailuobosi 蔥油白蘿蔔絲  
Serves 4 to 6 generously as a side dish or appetizer

1 fresh, white Chinese radish (2 pounds or so)
2 teaspoons sea salt
3 green onions, trimmed
4 tablespoons fresh peanut or vegetable oil

Pour on the hot oil
1. Peel the radish and trim off the root end; if you are grating it by hand, leave on the stem end so that it can act as a handle, but otherwise discard it.

2. Grate the radish either by hand or with a food processor. I personally prefer the long threads that are made with a Chinese grater, but this certainly isn't a deal breaker.

3. Place the grated radish in a colander set in the sink or on a large plate. Toss the radish threads with the salt and let the moisture from the radish drip out over an hour or two.

4. Gently squeeze clumps of the radish threads between your hands to remove the remaining water, and place the squeezed radish in a medium work bowl; refrigerate the threads for at least an hour or two so that they become completely chilled.

Quickly cooked onions
5. Slice the green onions as thinly as you can and place in a heatproof bowl. Heat the oil in a small saucepan or wok until it just barely starts to smoke, and then immediately pour it over the green onions. Use chopsticks to move the onions around in the hot oil so that they cook evenly, and then let the onions and oil come to room temperature.

6. Up to an hour before serving, thoroughly toss the radish threads with the onions and oil; taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary.


See this post for advice on selecting juicy, fresh Chinese radishes.


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  2. This recipe IS brilliant! I was astonished by how delicious it was for such a simple dish. I love your cookbook and blog!

    1. I actually made this again just a couple of days ago. It's so insanely simple, yet completely satisfying. Thank you for the very kind words!