Uniquely looking vegetables are some of the most intriguing to use in recipes. The watermelon radish is such a unique specimen that unlike regular supermarket radishes, which are bright red on the outside and white on the inside, are just the opposite in color: a pink to red interior and light-green exterior. They are one of the most popular vegetables at the Union Square Greenmarket, where I buy them as often as I visit. Friends of mine have introduced me to them and I have easily gotten obsessed to the point of making specific trips. Windfall Farms, which sells a variety of root vegetables and salad greens, carries the most beautiful of these radishes in a variety of sizes. Large ones are great for cooking and the small ones are ideal sliced paper thin and eaten raw with just a sprinkling of salt or tossed in a green salad.
This salad, which I have created from all seasonal vegetables, combines the different textures and tastes of crispy radishes, crunchy walnuts, salty cheese, and peppery dressing as well as the visually appealing colors of pink radishes and purple radicchio. For a variety in greens, the salad base is made up of slightly bitter chicory and radicchio combined with sweet baby spinach. The vinaigrette uses sherry vinegar, which offers an unparalleled bite, along with good-quality olive oil and pink peppercorns, which are actually berries not peppercorns and have a tart fruity almost citrus flavor. It's not only a salad that looks good, but it tastes good too. This salad would make a perfect first course for a romantic dinner for two on Valentine's evening.
When choosing radishes, look for firm, crisp, unblemished ones. Watermelon radishes a re recognizable by their light green and creamy white exterior with a touch of pink near the root end. Stay away from radishes that may be soft. Most likely they will be mealy inside.
Chicory Salad with Watermelon Radishes, Shaved Manchego, and Pink Peppercorn Vinaigrette
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1-1/2 teaspoons crushed pink peppercorns
fine sea salt
1 small head chicory, leaves torn
1/2 head radicchio, leaves torn
3 ounces baby spinach
3 small watermelon radishes, thinly sliced
1 rib celery, thinly sliced
1/3 cup shaved Manchego cheese
1/3 cup walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
In a large bowl, whisk together sherry vinegar, olive oil, peppercorns, and season with salt. Add chicory, radicchio, spinach, and sliced radishes and celery. Toss to coat. Divide salad between two plates. Top with shaved Manchego and chopped walnuts. Yield: 2 servings.