I love all root vegetables, but right now I love radishes the most. They tend to be crisper, spicier, prettier and more refreshing than their sisters. And because radishes were one of only two edibles — the other being garlic — that we could ever get to flourish in my parents’ garden when I was growing up, they are also the only root that I fully associate with summer.
Central Oregon’s weather is notoriously bad for growing. Not only is it located in the High Desert, but it also freezes twelve months of the year: It’s almost June, but there is snow forecast for my hometown for the next two days. The radishes were always a complete success though. So much so, that my parents would send me out with my little red wagon brimming with dirty, just-pulled radishes to pawn them off on the neighbors. I was allowed to ask for as much as a dollar per bunch, but was encouraged to bargain down to as little as free. Just so long as I came back with an empty wagon.
Turns out? A lot of people hate radishes.
Central Oregon’s tricky weather also makes it hard to plan for outdoor holidays. This weekend belongs to Memorial Day. No matter how nice the rest of May has been, Memorial Day in Bend is invariably 48 degrees and raining. Nevertheless, my mom would always force the family to go down to Shevlin Park and have a picnic in the cold.
When I was growing up, many of my older male relatives were veterans. They are mostly dead now, so Memorial Day is a good time to remember them, be thankful for their service and be grateful that they went on to live long lives.
I especially remember my Uncle Poe. He was married to my grandma’s sister, who still lives in Bend and who has only gotten more awesome with age. When I was little, my great aunt and uncle lived just across the fields from my grandparents, so we would go over there often. Grandma and her sister would sit in the kitchen drinking Folgers and I would go out to the yard where Uncle Poe would be working on his rocks. He had been the sheriff of Deschutes County for almost 30 years (here he is!), but by the time I knew him, he had taken up rock hounding, his true passion in life. I would sit on a stool in his shed, wedged between mountains of rocks, covering my ears while he sawed a thunderegg in half. After rubbing a combination of spit and chewing tobacco on the cross section to bring out its amazing colors, he would shove it in my face: “Isn’t that cute?” he’d ask. Sometimes he would make necklaces or bolo ties from his rocks, but I think that he mostly enjoyed driving out in the desert to find them and then sawing them in half.
In between sawing, he would tell me stories about fighting in the South Pacific during World War II. They were amazing! And he would use the most terrible language! It was very thrilling for a six-year-old; I’m happy to report that I always took his feelings regarding our Japanese friends with a chunk of salt. My grandfather died when I was very young and Uncle Poe filled his shoes in a lot of ways. I am really lucky to have known him.
This salad is ideal for outdoor holidays, in addition to being super healthy and nutritious and delicious. It’s full of protein, iron and veggies and low in fat and carbohydrates. It holds up well and doesn’t involve any disgusting mayonnaise. This is a variation on a three-bean salad, but I think the radishes are the real star.
It’s-Okay-to-Wear-White-Shoes-Now Bean Salad
- Three 12 oz cans of beans: dark kidney (iron!), garbanzo and black
- A bunch of radishes, sliced in cross sections like Uncle Poe’s thundereggs
- One orange bell pepper, chopped
- One red onion, chopped
- One bunch of cilantro, torn by hand
For the dressing
- A quarter cup of extra virgin olive oil
- A quarter cup of lime juice
- One carrot
- A thumb-sized chunk of ginger
- Several fresh or dried hot chili peppers, to taste
- Three cloves of garlic
- Ten whole peppercorns
- Ten whole coriander seeds (if you plant them, they turn into cilantro)
- A teaspoon of salt
This one is as easy as it gets. Rinse and drain the beans well. If you are cooking for a lot of people, double every ingredient. Assemble the beans and veggies into a large bowl. Then combine all of the dressing ingredients into a blender or food processor and puree for a long time. The carrot gives great color and texture and reduces the need for oil. Taste the dressing and remember: It’s okay if it’s under-salted, because beans from a can are typically really salty. You can mix the dressing into the salad if you’re taking it somewhere, but if you’re staying at home, I recommend drizzling it over individual servings. Only because it looks so beautiful.