Radish Tops Pesto
This is a delicious recipe you can use in a number of applications from the traditional take as a condiment for your pasta, rice, or quinoa to a more creative use as a spread on grilled bread or simply as a dip for your crudité vegetables – and guess what, it’s epic as a dip for its very own radish roots! Perfection.
The recipe comes from that heartache I always experience when I discard the radish leaves. I look at them, I know they’re beautiful, I know they’re tasty, yet I don’t know what to do with them. Adding them to a salad is a great solution but I always feel that more than that can and should be done with them. So as I recently purchased a porcelain mortar ($10.00 from Target) and I immediately thought pesto; but this had to be something a little different because I never buy more than a couple bunches of radish and the yield in leaves is really not that great – out of two bunches I got 3 oz worth of stemmed leaves (you can use the stems and get more out of it but the result is not as creamy and pungent the way radishes can be pungent). Also, the flavor environment is a little different from the one found in basil. Instead of sweet, radish leaves tend on the bitter; rather than aromatic as basil, they’re pungent; and while basil has a very smooth, buttery leaf, radish’s is somewhat rough. So I thought to sweeten and at the same time smoothen out the situation by adding some green onion tops (they’re sweet and kind of slimy once pestled to a paste) – the pungency is lovely and I only wanted to emphasize it with garlic and a few black peppercorns.
For the nuts I employed sunflower seeds as beyond the pungency radish leaf flavor is subtle and most nuts would have overpowered that. Sunflower seeds bring a delicate nutty taste without drowning the delicate bitterness and pungency of the radish leaves. Also, I decided to soak the seeds rather than toast them for that same reason as well as in order to obtain a smoother cream – all of this while I really don’t mind keeping a recipe raw when I can.
Finally, I also wanted to keep the recipe a vegan one so I used nutritional yeast in place of cheese but if you’re not worried about the horrors of animal agriculture and its dire consequences on the environment, you should probably use pecorino romano.
If you don’t have a mortar (or simply don’t have time/desire to be pestling away), you can use a blender. The downside of this is that, unless you’re making a large amount (say three times this recipe) or increase the amount of oil (an obvious drawback), you’re not gonna have enough body for the blades to pick it up and blend it. Also, for that same reason, you’d still be forced to blend all the ingredients together which ends up over-emulsifying the oil and blending all the flavors and colors into one, thus sacrificing complexity as well as digestibility. With a mortar you get to process one ingredient at the time before mixing them all together which, besides making it a much easier to digest final product where color and flavor complexity are effectively preserved, I find that this technique, thanks to the aid of sea salt which keeps the acids from abrading the chlorophyll, helps the leaves retain their green without turning black. So there’s beauty. Yes. Beauty.
Last but not least, if you’re planning to use it as a condiment for your rice, pasta or quinoa, I suggest you chop the stems and grate the roots and add them along when you mix everything – and definitely keep it a cold salad dish as the cooked leaves taste downright horrible.
3 oz. stemmed Radish leaves (from approximately two bunches)
1 oz (about 1/2 cup) roughly chopped Green Onion tops (green only)
3 Garlic cloves
8 black Peppercorns
1 oz Sunflower Seeds soaked for 2 hours
4 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 Tbsp nutritional Yeast
1 tsp sea Salt
Pestle the radish leaves, and the green onions with garlic and peppercorns in two separate batches each with 1/2 teaspoon salt until you obtain rough pastes.
Pestle the sunflower seeds a little before adding 1 tablespoon oil to help the paste.
Unify the three pastes in the mortar and keep pestling until you obtain a creamy compound then add the remaining extra virgin olive oil and the nutritional yeast.
Refrigerate for a few hours before serving.