Did you know that Shelley Duvall had a kids show in the late 80s? When I was little, PBS would air reruns of Faerie Tale Theatre, and my absolute favorite episode was the Rapunzel one where Shelley Duvall and Jeff Bridges play Rapunzel's parents, while also playing Rapunzel and her knight in shining armor (I'm not making this up—seriously, google it). Anyway, in the Shelley Duvall version, the whole story hinges on radishes, one of my favorite springtime veggies, and one that I had not yet tried at the time.
Here's a brief summary of the vegetable-related plot points: While Rapunzel's mother is pregnant with her, she gets irresistible cravings for radishes—but not just any run of the mill ones—she goads her husband into stealing radishes from the garden of the evil witch who lives next door (a great idea at the time), and when the witch finds out, she kidnaps baby Rapunzel, and you know the rest.
(I assume) to make radishes look more unusual and mysterious, the prop designers attached voluminous, shimmery blue leaves onto actual radishes. During her midnight snacks, Shelley Duvall's character would grab the radishes by the bunch, and their crinkly blue cellophane leaves would rustle as she binged on these magical veggies. While I had never had a radish before (I was, like, five and hadn't gotten around to it yet), I had watched this episode a million times, and I spent so much time imagining what they must taste like. Of course, the way I imagined radishes tasted is completely different than the way they actually taste, but whenever I eat them now, I still kind of imagine them the way I did when I was little.
Radishes are often found on Persian cheese boards, with a big brick of crumbly, brined cheese in the center, and lots of mint, cilantro, and basil around the edges. While my family's roots are in Iraq and Syria, many Assyrians are Persian, and cheese with herbs and radishes has become one of our staples for entertaining. These flavors pair perfectly in this freekeh salad, and the smoky flavor of the grains ensures that it's a little earthier than all that bright and grassy spring produce you're probably already tired of (alright already, with the asparagus and fiddleheads!).
Unfortunately (or fortunately?) this salad doesn't contain any blue plastic radish greens, but it does contain actual good-for-you, deliciously spicy radish greens, and it's very radish-forward in general. While you can get radishes pretty much year-round, I find that their greens tend to be a whole lot fresher in the spring. Whenever I find a gorgeous bunch with nice, crisp leaves (not quite as crinkly as the Faerie Tale Theatre ones, but somewhere in the ballpark!), I like to wilt them and throw them in too. And to really celebrate this glorious veggie, I leave the bulbs in chunks instead of thin slices. Thin slices are pretty and all, but (as I learned from Shelley Duvall as a small child), there's nothing more satisfying than eating radishes in big, chomping bites.
freekeh radish salad
2 cups freekeh, sorted and rinsed
Salt, to taste
1 small bunch radishes (about 10 to 15) with greens attached *
1/2 tablespoon butter or olive oil
1/4 cup slivered almonds
Half of 1 small red onion, about 1/2 to 3/4 cup small diced
8 oz feta, crumbled into small pieces
1 15-ounce can chickpeas, strained and rinsed
1/4 cup minced parsley
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- Bring about 1 to 2 quarts salted water to a boil. Add the freekeh, then cover and cook according to the package instructions (the kind I buy takes 20 minutes simmered at low heat. Start checking a few minutes earlier than the package instructions). Once the freekeh is al dente, strain and rinse with cold water.
- While you wait on the freekeh to cook, work on the rest of the salad. Separate the radishes from their greens. Discard any gross bits, and then wash everything really well by soaking in a bowl of cold water and letting the dirt settle to the bottom. Change the water a couple times (radishes, and especially their greens, are super gritty). Once the water is clear, lift the radishes and greens out of the bowl, leaving the dirt behind.
- Coarsely chop the radish greens.
- Heat the butter or oil in a medium skillet over medium heat for about 2 minutes. Add the almonds and stir constantly for about 5 minutes, just until they take on a little color. Using a slotted spoon, remove the almonds to a large mixing bowl, leaving the oil behind.
- Throw the radish greens into the skillet and cook, stirring for about 1 minute, just until they wilt. Add them to the large bowl with the onions.
- Cut the radishes into large chunks (or thin slices if you prefer) and throw them in the large bowl. Also throw in the red onion, feta, chickpeas, and parsley (hold back a teaspoon or so for garnish).
- In a small mixing bowl, combine the olive oil, black pepper, red wine vinegar, and salt to taste (I use 1/4 teaspoon). Add the rinsed freekeh to the large serving bowl, and whisk the dressing together for a few seconds before pouring it over the salad. Mix everything together immediately, taste, and adjust the seasoning if necessary (feel free to add a touch more vinegar or oil, if you'd like, being sure to sprinkle and mix really well). Garnish with parsley and serve.
* If you can't find radishes with decent looking greens, no worries. You can substitute spinach, or leave it out entirely.