By: Co+op

The peppery, pungent radish has long been a prized produce pick. While there's some disagreement among experts about which civilization grew it first, it's likely that the ancient Chinese, Greeks and Egyptians all enjoyed the root.

Today, radishes are one of the most cultivated—and celebrated—vegetables in the world. The Japanese hold The Qingdao Radish Festival, with a national radish-carving contest, on the 9th day of the new lunar year (according to Japanese folklore, eating radishes on this day helps prevent disease). Mexicans also carve radish sculptures—in Oaxaca, on December 23, The Night of the Radishes. And in the States, McClure, Ohio ("radish capital of the world") and the Mississippi Gulf's Long Beach (the former "radish capital of the world") each hold an annual radish festival, with cooking demonstrations and other festivities.

Radishes are a very good source of dietary fiber, vitamin C, folate, zinc and potassium. They're also a good source of riboflavin, vitamin B6, calcium, magnesium, copper and manganese. That's a lot of nutrition for just 19 calories per cup.

It's fun to explore the various sizes, colors and shapes of radishes. While the flesh is most often (but not always) white, the outer root might be pink, yellow, green, white, red, purple or black,, and shapes can vary from short and round to long and cylindrical.

Cherry Belle is the round, bright red radish you often come across in the produce aisle. It's a good choice because it stays crisp and is sweet and mild. Snow Belle is similar but white throughout. White Icicle Radishes are an heirloom variety that are white and carrot shaped. Also look for French Breakfast (a mild, elongated, extra crunchy variety), Easter Egg (similar to Cherry Belle in a variety of colors), and Black Spanish (a very spicy radish, great for pickling or grating into condiments).

A longer form of the radish includes some Asian varieties, such as daikon (Japanese radish, Chinese radish, or mooli). These are most often white, though occasionally a yellow or black variety is available. Asian radishes can grow up to two feet long, with foliage about two feet high and a spread of about 18 inches. Masato Green, Masato Red, and Sakurajima are types of daikon.

While the whole plant is edible, the taproot is the part we most often enjoy. It can be eaten raw, out of hand, chopped or sliced, or it can be cooked or pickled.

The zingy, cooling radish is always welcome on a salad, where it brings vibrancy and zest to any greens. In this Radish and Cucumber Salad, radishes play off the color, texture and taste of the fresh cucumber. A balsamic dressing ties it all together. And in this Moroccan Carrot Radish Salad, shredded radishes and carrots (another great color combo) come together for a flavorful, quickly assembled dish. Lentil Salad with Radish—seasoned with oregano, tamari, Dijon mustard and a dash of maple syrup—is satisfying on its own, and leftovers make a tasty filling for pocket bread.

Radishes can be steamed or sauteed, too. With edamame, cabbage, garlic, and ginger, they make a delicious appearance in Miso-Sriracha Tofu with Bok Choy, perfect alongside rice, chicken or sauteed vegetables.

If pickling appeals to you, try making your own Spicy Kimchee with daikon radish, napa cabbage, carrots and green onions. Garlic, ginger and chili intensify the flavors.

Some varieties of radish are available in the spring and summer, while others hit the market in the fall and winter.

Choose radishes that are bright and firm, with smooth skins. Avoid cracked, knobby, scarred or wrinkled roots. If the leaves are intact, they should be vibrant.

Remove the leaves before storing (they'll speed spoiling), and clean the radishes of sand and dirt by rinsing in cold water. Refrigerate in an open plastic bag (or veggie bag) for up to 10 days in the refrigerator. Another option is to place the radishes in a plastic bag or a glass jar, layering with paper towels to absorb any moisture.

If your radishes become limp, soak them in a bowl of ice water for five to ten minutes.

For a small veggie, the radish certainly delivers big in taste and appearance.