No matter how close you are with your best friends, it's good to get out occasionally and meet new people. This holds true in the kitchen as well, because it's way too easy to fall into a rut of cooking the same things all the time. The cure for that is just to pick something you're unfamiliar with and play with it at mealtimes. Consider the daikon radish, for example. You'll find it at supermarkets and Asian groceries, sometimes called Asian radish or lo bok. It's one of the mildest radishes and it's surprisingly versatile.
Keep It Raw for Slaw
Like any other radish, daikon is a natural choice for salads. It's mild, it's sweet, it's juicy and crunchy, and it goes with just about anything else you want to drop into your bowl. How you use it really comes down to the kind of salad you're making. You can use thin slices shaved from a small daikon to decorate a green salad or toss half or quarter slices of larger roots with your greens. You can also shred the daikon on a box grater or food processor and then sprinkle it over a salad for garnish or incorporate it into a mixed-vegetable slaw. If your knife skills are good or if you have a mandoline slicer, julienned strips of daikon make an attractive addition to most salads or sandwich wraps.
Stir-Fry It Quickly
One of the classic preparation methods for daikon is adding it to your favorite stir-fry. Matchstick-sized julienne strips are your best bet for this use, because they're small enough to cook quickly but sturdy enough to retain their shape and stay tender-crisp when you're finished. If you don't have the time or knife skills to do them by hand, you can use a mandoline slicer or a julienne disk on your food processor. In a pinch you can use the coarse side of a box grater, but shredded daikon doesn't work quite the same in a stir-fry. Grating releases a lot of juices from the daikon, so you'll want to squeeze these out before you add it to your wok. You should also add it near the end of your cooking time, because the thin shreds will cook much more quickly than matchsticks.
Roasting is probably not the first use that comes to mind for daikon or any other radish, but it actually works quite well. Like most root vegetables, daikon has a fairly high level of natural sugars and roasting caramelizes them. Also the dry heat of roasting evaporates some of the water from it, which concentrates its flavors nicely. Cut the daikon into cubes of 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch and toss them with a bit of oil, so they don't get leathery in the oven, and a pinch of salt or other seasonings. Roast in a high oven, at 375 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, until they're tender and the edges are nicely browned.
Add It to Soups and Stews
If you love your soups, stews and pot roasts during the cool weather, daikon works well with all of them. It's actually a pretty good substitute for turnip in any dish if you don't have a turnip on hand. Just dice it or slice it into a size and shape that matches any other root vegetables you're using. As it cooks, it'll mellow and lose its hint of peppery radish flavor.
Daikon is used across much of Asia, and just about everywhere it's grown it's also pickled for year-round use. Whatever your taste in pickles, you can probably find a pickled version of daikon that works for you. It can be cut into thin rectangular slices or matchsticks and turned into anything from blistering-hot kimchi to mouth-puckeringly tart pickles. Most recipes use one of two techniques. Quick pickling uses daikon and a prepared vinegar, like rice vinegar or cider vinegar. Traditional fermentation starts with daikon and brine, and various yeasts and bacteria turn the daikon's sugars into vinegar the natural way over a period of weeks. These pickles may taste better and are full of probiotic organisms, but you'll need to keep them in a cool place while they "work," and the aromas can sometimes be a bit overpowering.
Fred Decker is a trained chef, former restaurateur and prolific freelance writer, with a special interest in all things related to food and nutrition. His work has appeared online on major sites including Livestrong.com, WorkingMother.com and the websites of the Houston Chronicle and San Francisco Chronicle; and offline in Canada's Foodservice & Hospitality magazine and his local daily newspaper. He was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.