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Daikon (Raphanus sativus longipinnatus) is a mild white radish shaped like a large carrot. The name comes from the Japanese words dai, meaning “big” and kon, meaning “root”. Growing to a length of 8 to 14 inches (20 to 35 cm) and a width of 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 cm), it certainly lives up to its name. Variant varieties may be cylindrical or even spherical. Almost all types are white, though some are shades of yellow, green, pink, or black.
The daikon radish is popular in the cuisines of Japan, China, Korea, Vietnam, and India. It is known by the names of Japanese or Chinese radish, winter radish, icicle radish, labanos, lobak, and rabu, among others. The radish is believed to have originated in the Mediterranean region, before being transplanted to east Asia sometime prior to 500 B.C.
In Japanese cuisine, the ubiquitous daikon is prepared and served in a variety of ways. It is frequently grated and served raw, as an accompaniment to a dish or as a flavoring in soup. It may be shredded, dried, pickled, used in sushi, simmered, or stir-fried. The fresh leaves and sprouts are eaten separately.
In China, daikon is often added to various dim sum dishes, such as mooli cakes. Mooli cakes, which are either fried or steamed, are traditional fare to serve at celebrations of the Chinese New Year. In Korea, it is included as a component of kimchi, the national dish of Korea, a combination of vinegary pickled vegetables, hot pepper, garlic, and ginger.
In Myanmar, daikon is served pickled or as an ingredient in salad. It is also boiled and served with fish sauce or made into soup. In India, daikon, called muli, is shredded and used as a filling for parathas, a sort of pan-fried flat bread. It is also served raw in salads in Punjabi regional cuisine.
This radish is very low in calories. A 0.5 cup (75 g) raw portion provides only about 20 calories and is a superior source of vitamin C. It is considered to be beneficial in aiding digestion. The leaves are a good source of beta-carotene, vitamin C, calcium, and iron. Daikon radishes prefer to be planted deep in rich, loosely packed, moist soil. They have a fairly long growing season, and should be planted once the soil has warmed.
Daikon is available in grocery stores year-round. When purchasing it, shoppers should select those that have white, unblemished skin and feel heavy and substantial in the hand, with no withering or cracks. The leaves should be fresh and green, with no yellowing. The radish can be stored in a resealable plastic bag in the refrigerator, but the leaves should be separated from the root and stored at room temperature or used right way, as they do not refrigerate well.
A versatile food, the daikon may be prepared successfully in a number of ways. In addition to stir-frying and boiling, it may be grilled, baked, and broiled. It is delicious raw and makes a novel addition to any cold relish or crudites platter. It only needs to be washed, peeled, and cut vertically into thin slices or julienne.