I love spring vegetables. When we got this last week’s Mystery Box from Mariquita Farm, my kids and I were chomping on the baby carrots on the way home like they were candy. I always peek into the bountiful bag of treats before I drive away so I can scheme about what I will use for dinner an hour later. The agretti? The rapini? The spigariello?
No doubt. It had to be the spring radishes and the soft-leaved cilantro. The night before, feeling too worn out to make dinner, I had caved and purchased some tortas con chorizo y carnitas at Tortas los Picudos. I love all the garnishes they add to their sandwiches, but I am a sucker for the sweetened raw red onion, pickled vegetables, and extra cilantro.
I had my inspiration. I have written of my salad obsession before. Our house happily consumes salad about five times a week. (And may I please mention one of my proudest parenting moments ever? My one- and four-year old actually fought over a radish that one of them had picked in our garden a couple of weeks ago. Fought! Over a radish!)
I wanted paper-thin radishes and red onion, a tangy cheese, the cilantro leaves, something crunchy, and a lime dressing. Unfortunately, I was all out of limes, but I did have my favorite Meyer lemons so I made a slightly creamy shallot-Meyer lemon vinaigrette.
While Cotija cheese would also be fantastic in this salad, I happened to have Israeli feta on hand, which is just pungent enough to be stronger than a queso fresco, but soft enough for the texture I was craving. For the crunch, I decide to toast some pepitas (pumpkin seeds). Just like popcorn, if they get hot enough, they actually start popping because of the moisture inside and provide a really healthful and phenomenal crunch to the salad.
Finally, in order that the red onions would not overpower the almost-sweet spring radishes, I sliced them paper-thin as well, letting them soak in cold water for ten minutes. This takes the bite out of them.
Other hints I have are to layer the salad as you make it. Slice all of your radishes, have your cleaned cilantro leaves ready to go, and your crumbled feta. I make a bed of the sliced radishes, maybe 7 or 8, and then I lay down a couple of leaves of cilantro, a bit of crumbled feta, and some of the toasted pepitas, then I repeat the process with a little bit less of everything. At the end, just to make it pretty, I drizzle the dressing over the top and then add a couple more pepitas and a few more crumbles of cheese. And it tastes even better than it looks.
The only other thing I might change next time I make this is to zest a bit of the lemon (or lime, if you go that way) into the dressing to heighten the sour tang. I chose not to this time because my radishes were not that spicy and I thought a really strong dressing would diminish the flavor of the radishes. If anyone makes this with the lime, let me know how it turns out. I also can imagine a variation that includes a couple of teeny tiny breakfast radishes (uncut) mixed in with the sliced radishes. Or even a little bit of minced preserved Moroccan lemon. I have a few jars preserving right now so I will report back on how that tastes.
Radish Cilantro Salad with Toasted Pepitas, Feta, and Meyer Cream
(serves 4 small)
Radishes (8-10 small)
Cilantro (no tough stems), about 40 washed and dried leaves
Israeli feta, crumbled (or another tangy cheese like Cotija)
1/3 cup pepitas, toasted until they pop, and cooled
Red onion, thinly sliced
Meyer Lemon Cream Vinaigrette
1 1/2-2 tablespoons minced shallot
1/4 cup Meyer lemon juice (you can zest one lemon too, if you choose, see note)
very generous 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1. Thinly slice the red onion and add to a bowl of cold water for 10-15 minutes.
2.Toast your pepitas in a toaster oven or in a dry pan on the stove. Remove from heat and let cool.
3. With a sharp knife or a mandoline blade, slice all of your radishes.
4. Make the dressing by letting the minced shallots macerate in the lemon juice and salt for a couple of minutes. Whisk in the olive oil, carefully stir in the cream, and add a bit of freshly ground pepper. Taste it to see if you need more pepper or salt.
5. Arrange the radishes, cilantro, pepitas, and red onion on a plate, building each part up and then layer more on top, without overcrowding. Drizzle the dressing over everything and then sprinkle more cheese and pepitas over everything.