The watermelon radish originated in China where it is referred to as"shinrimei" of "xin li mei" which loosely translates as "in one's heart it is beautiful". It's a fitting moniker for a vegetable whose creamy ivory color belies its fiery pink heart.
When the watermelon radish arrived in America, it was originally listed as the "red meat radish" in early seed catalogs. It's an appropriate name since it evokes the texture and umami sensation delivered by Portobello mushrooms, making it an ideal vegetable to serve on a vegetarian menu.
When this radish, which is related to the Chinese daikon and is in the brassica (mustard) family, became popular at farm markets throughout the country, its name was changed to beauty heart, which seems even more fitting than red meat radish.
Beauty Heart and Heston's Lollipops
At his legendary restaurant The Fat Duck in Bray, England, our friend Heston Blumenthal prepares the watermelon radish by slicing it thinly on a mandolin, dipping each slice in sugar syrup, laying them out on a dehydrator tray with a lolly stick arranged over each one, and dehydrating them for the perfect vegetable lollipop. It's a preparation that would make Willy Wonka proud.
Chefs love the watermelon radish for its versatility and the way it pairs so well with a variety of ingredients. Fennel, tart cheeses like goat and feta, toothsome soba noodles, mint, tarragon, cilantro, cooked eggs, bacon and the old standby butter with white flake salt are all crowd favorites. In China it is frequently paired with seafood to counter the fishy flavor. We love it on the farm layered between two slices of chewy bread slathered in butter sprinkled with salt.
The watermelon radish is also a friend to salads and stir-fries and when sliced thinly on a mandolin, affords around forty slices, making it a nice bang for your buck ingredient since a little goes a long way in terms of aesthetic beauty and flavor. One of our favorite restaurant preparations is enjoying it thinly sliced and layered on a plate with a drizzle of truffle oil.
There's nothing humdrum about the watermelon radish. It's a gorgeous vegetable that's as alluring as it is flavorful. Its vibrant, spicy flavor and unique coloring makes it a chef favorite because its guaranteed to elicit wonder in guests who marvel at it whether it’s served in a salad, in a sandwich, tucked into an elegant seafood dish or even served as a lollipop.