In the last three years, I have had the incredible good luck of attending a wedding each summer. Two years ago, I had the great honor of making the cake. One year ago, I sobbed as I watched two women legally and joyfully exchange vows, then start perhaps the greatest dance party I’ve ever attended. And this past weekend my eyes welled as the bride – dressed in a frock she designed herself, alternating white and lemon yellow flounces – betrayed just a tiny quiver in her perfect, crimson lips as her sister read a toast: a poem she’d written herself.
The poem was about the bride and groom, but it was also about older and younger sisters: the beautiful friend/family/learning relationship they have as they grow up together. It was, there is almost no need to assert, beautiful. Of course it was. It was about the things the girls had weathered, and how the groom had woven his way into their laughter and music, through music of his own. But it was also about what the bride had taught her sister.
Sisters learn funny things from each other, and it is disarming and lovely to be allowed to see what things they consider most important. How to read, how to write, how to sing. And, somehow magically, “how to cook radishes.” Until five or six years ago, I’d never given much thought to cooking radishes. To be honest, I hadn’t given much thought to radishes at all. They were just there, all weird and pinkly peppery, flying saucers scattered through the occasional salad, or sharp and pungent and paired with butter and salt.
But here’s a funny thing, about radishes, about weddings, about friends and family and learning: as you get older, you get to choose things. Weddings help us construct the families we choose. But so can friendships, and so can an experience like graduate school, and so, oddly enough, can radishes.
When N. and I lived in Eugene, Oregon, we decided to grow a garden. It was easy, there. It was a matter of shoving seeds into a spare bit of dirt, and watching them grow. Until the height of summer, it rained so often you barely had to worry about watering. Peas were one of our first crops, and of course we were invested in our tomatoes. But I’d still never considered radishes. Until, at S.’s house, a friend who has now become family, I was handed a french breakfast radish, pulled from her own little vegetable plot minutes before, a pink and while icicle the neighborhood deer had left quite alone. “You can just eat the whole thing,” S. told me, and I did. And the mild crunch, and the crisp, juicy spiciness, all but made me a convert then and there.
After that first year of gardening, I always bought a pack of radish seeds. And they will never not make me think of S: razor wit, funny and honest and lovely and brilliant. She’s a willing and gracious hostess, she’s a fantastic cook, and she’s the mom to my own dog-daughter’s canine BFF. She, like the bride and groom this past weekend, like J & HP whose wedding cake I made, the people I can barely wait to spend fourth of July weekend with, is one of that special and cautiously assembled group: the family I chose.
And as the fourth of July approaches, and those lovely people you choose to surround yourself with, to learn from, to sing with and read with and cook with, begin to turn their thoughts to potato salad, let me offer a fresh take to consider. This is not your traditional mayonnaise-laden, pickle-and-onion-and-dusted-with-paprika barbecue offering. (If you are after one of those, may I humbly suggest this one?) But I like this different approach, because it is lighter and fresher, because it does not require stove or oven heat, and because it makes me think of S. Tiny fingerling potatoes and plump lipstick red radishes get quartered, salted and peppered and oiled, and grilled until tender and silky. And then a few green onions, just to get a gentle char. Meanwhile, an assertive vinaigrette gets overburdened with herbs and whisked within an inch of its life to be drizzled over a bed of greens. I like arugula. S. would tell you to use the radish greens (but wash them a few times first – they can be really sandy). Potatoes and radishes get tumbled in, and after a quick toss the greens are barely wilted and the dressing soaks into the grilled vegetables like sponges in a bath.
I don’t know if this is how my bride friend’s sister learned to cook radishes. I suspect not. But the point is, those lovely things we learn, and choose, and become, should be shared.
Grilled Radish and Potato Salad, for Sarah.
Adapted from Cuisine at Home
Serves 2 as a main, 4-6 as a side
1 pound radishes, rinsed well, tops and tails removed
1 pound baby potatoes – the smaller the better
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 bunch green onions or scallions, root ends trimmed off
¼ cup white wine vinegar or lemon juice
2 teaspoons dijon mustard
2 teaspoons finely minced dill
2 teaspoons finely chopped parsley
salt and pepper to taste
2-4 cups loosely packed arugula, or a combination of arugula and well-rinsed radish greens
- If you are using a gas grill, place a grill tray on the burners and preheat the grill to medium over direct heat. If you are using a charcoal grill, light the coals. As they begin to turn gray, add the grill tray to let it heat up. If you are using an oven, preheat it to 425F with a sheet tray inside.
- Quarter the radishes and halve or quarter the baby potatoes. You want equal, bite-size pieces – they need about the same amount of time to cook.
- In a large bowl, toss the potatoes and radishes with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Transfer them to the preheated grill or sheet tray in a single layer.
- Grill until tender, 10-15 minutes, agitating as required to prevent burning. If you are using an oven this may take more like 20-25 minutes.
- Meanwhile, make the vinaigrette: in a large bowl (I use the same bowl as before), whisk the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil with vinegar, mustard, and herbs.
- When radishes and potatoes are tender, transfer them to the bowl with the vinaigrette. Add the arugula (and radish greens, if using) and toss to combine.
- Grill the green onions for 3-5 minutes, until the white bulbs are slightly softened and the greens are nicely charred. Chop and add to the salad, again tossing to combine.
- Season the salad to taste with additional salt and pepper, if needed, and serve warm or at room temperature.