Just when you thought you could finally toss the Uggs (so aptly named) for good, the local weather starts making upstate New York look balmy. Cold, mittenless hands or no, this is actually some prime winter vegetable weather. Freezing temps do wonders for the brassicas, making brussel sprouts and broccoli taste downright honeyed. It also makes it possible for cool weather rarities to share some table space with less temperamental standards. The Chinese Shinrimei radish, more commonly known here as the watermelon radish, is one of those finicky winter vegetables. A mere whiff of anything above 75 degrees sends it bolting, shrinking the prized root ball into a tasteless and dry shadow of its formerly juicy self. But while it's cool outside, it keeps packing all of its energy into making one of the more attractive and striking root vegetables this season.
The watermelon radish is a Chinese heirloom that is crispy and sweet like jicama, dense like a potato (which might be one of the reasons Weiser Family Farms is one of a few vendors growing it) and just mildly peppery. Size-wise they'll go from golf ball to baseball size, getting a little denser as they grow. Large specimens will have almost entirely hot pink flesh surrounded by a thin celadon-green skin. Smaller ones tend to be a little more dramatic since the center color hasn't had time to fully invade the radish. The result is a striking starburst of fuschia reaching into white flesh that fades into a mossy green rind.
Once the weather begins its inevitable warm up, the watermelon radish will disappear from the farmers markets. But as it also grows rapidly, a second or third crop is pretty common through the winter and early spring seasons. If your radish had greens still attached, chose for firm stems and healthy foliage. If not, check for soft spots and cuts. The larger radishes are pretty dense so use some care when slicing. Try carving off a small, flat edge to help keep it stable while splitting it with a large chef's knife. It's fantastic raw, but it also makes an exceptional radish pickle.