Yesterday we spent another day getting creative in the kitchen for our second Vegan Chef Cook-Off. This time, our secret ingredient was a bit trickier. Everyone loves butternut squash (except for my husband, apparently), but how many people love daikon radish? I haven’t personally met any. It’s not that daikon radish is bad, by any means (done right, it’s even good!), but it’s a bit… well… niche. Let’s say niche.
I was intimidated when Nathan announced the secret ingredient, for sure. I’ve eaten it a handful of times living in China, but I’ve only cooked with it once—Nathan and I made some daikon radish noodle lo mien sometime last year. It was fine, but it can’t have been that good, because we never cooked with daikon radish again. I collect vegan recipes and read them in my spare time in my ongoing effort to suck up knowledge about cooking and go from What-Is-Food to The-Best-Home-Cook-Of-All-Time, and I only have one daikon radish recipe saved. It’s for raw daikon radish fries, and it warns that “you may want to use jicama […] if you’re new to raw food and the flavors that go with it.”
So I knew this was going to be tough.
This is not all of the ingredients we used, but it is everything we bought at the market for the competition.
Without further ado, let’s get into the dishes! Just like last time, Nathan served his for a late lunch and I served mine for dinner. This time, he served sometime between 1pm and 2pm. One thing he did really well in this round of the competition is he served a cohesive meal with each dish featuring daikon radish, rather than a random collection of mismatched daikon radish dishes.
Dish #1: Spicy pickled daikon radish
When I considered what I would do with daikon radish, my first thought was a take on the spicy pickled radishes that every casual restaurant here serves as an appetizer by the tub. Unfortunately, Nathan beat me to it, declaring almost immediately that he needed to let one of his dishes sit overnight (we had originally planned to hold the competition on Monday). Even more unfortunately, he rather bungled it.
The ingredients he used for this dish were daikon radish, rice vinegar, cooking wine, sugar, salt, and red Thai chili peppers. The idea was solid, but when he took the dish out of the refrigerator in the morning after leaving it to ferment (or whatever) overnight, he discovered the taste of the cooking wine was overwhelming, and he couldn’t regain a balance after that.
After tasting this botched dish, we turned to the main course…
Dish #2: Daikon radish sushi
My husband is the sushi man in the house. I’ve made sushi only once, but it’s a real part of his repertoire. He’s quite good at it, too, I think! He tried a new method of turning the Thai rice we keep in the house into sushi rice, by chopping it up after cooking. I thought it worked out pretty well, but he says he does not recommend it. It does turn the rice into a bit more of a homogenous paste, while his usual method of cooking the rice with far too much water allows the rice to maintain its natural grainy qualities better.
While this dish was quite tasty, the daikon radish didn’t seem like an integral part of any of the sushi rolls. It added a bit of that radish-y dimension to the taste, but I don’t think the sushi would have been noticeably different without the radish.
Finally, and much to my surprise, Nathan presented a daikon radish beverage…
Dish #3: Apple and daikon radish smoothie
Wow! This drink was… an enigma. When you took a sip, you were initially punched in the face by the radish. Raw radish has a sensation that reminds me of wasabi, in that you feel it in your face as much as you taste it (or possibly more). So you would take a sip, taste the radish, then feel the radish bloom through your face, and then it would mellow out into a pretty regular, sweet smoothie.
That sounds terrible when I type it out, and for the first sip I was so not on board. But, inexplicably, I wanted a second sip. And then I wanted a third. The series of events that happened when I consumed a little bit of the smoothie (which could only be consumed in little bits) was so confounding and unusual that I couldn’t stop. What’s more, the more I drank it, the better I liked it.
This was a truly creative offering. I have never personally pulled off such culinary creativity. I was, oddly enough, quite impressed.
For this one, Nathan blended equal parts sweet apples and daikon radish. He also added a little bit of melon (the cause of the slight orange color), but he maintains that this was a mistake, as it didn’t add much to the flavor but mellowed out the combination of apples and radish. Actually, he’s making me a plain apple-and-radish smoothie as I type this, to show me his original intent. I’m excited, but I’m also pretty nervous!
After tasting his dishes, I felt pretty confident about my chances with my dinner, if I’m being honest. I won the last round, and I was still high off that victory. Besides, he had a dish that totally flopped! I could at least be confident that that wouldn’t happen!
So, when dinner time rolled around, I made two offerings:
Dish #4: Bahn Mi Bowl
I’ve run into a lot of panzanella recipes lately, and the idea really intrigues me. So when I saw a recipe for a “Vietnamese panzanella,” I was instantly intrigued. I read through the recipe, but, since it’s against our rules to follow recipes, I winged it from there. Unfortunately, I forgot to make note of my process this time, so I can’t provide you with an exact recipe for the bowl I made. It’s very similar in ingredients to the above recipe, though—I replaced the regular radishes with daikon radish, made up my own tofu marinade, used peanut oil instead of olive oil, and otherwise tried to replicate the concept without following a recipe.
It didn’t entirely work.
The panzanella idea is great, and I’ll definitely be doing that again. The bahn mi idea is great, and I’ll definitely be making a bahn mi in the future. But the bowl I made was pretty imbalanced in terms of flavor, too heavy on the vinegar and sharpness, and by the time I served it (I let it sit while I made the second dish), it was cold—I thought it would have been better warm.
To be honest, I was pretty disappointed in the results I had here.
My other dish, though… my OTHER dish was fantastic!
Dish #5: Daikon Radish Bites
When I started researching, I saw a lot of Chinese or Taiwanese daikon radish cakes. I considered cooking these, but if I’m being totally honest, they sounded pretty bad to me. I love Chinese food… but that doesn’t mean I love all Chinese food. Some of the more chewy-textured dishes leave me pretty turned off, and daikon radish cakes sounded like they would fall into this category.
But it did give me an idea. I remembered the zucchini fritters I made over the summer (which didn’t turn out great texturally, but were a great concept with great flavors), and I thought… why not westernize daikon radish cakes?
I grated up maybe 1/3 or 1/2 of a large daikon radish, and mixed that with about half a large grated carrot (if you replicate this dish, grate the carrot smaller than the daikon radish). I sprinkled it with salt, let it sit for a while, and then squeezed out as much moisture as I could. I added some sweet potato starch and a very small potato, boiled and blended so that it was more of a potato paste. This and the sweet potato starch were my binders, so once I added them I mixed it all up and squeezed it together until it was all kind of sticking to itself. Then I seasoned it with a generous sprinkle of chives, garlic, and ginger powder (I have a jar of that all combined), some additional ginger powder, and a large pinch of “Chinese Spice for BBQ.” (I don’t know what’s in that, or if that’s a common spicy blend you’ll find anywhere else. Those are the only English words on the bag, haha. I imagine some chili powder or something like that would be a fine replacement. It just smells spicy and smoky.) Then I formed little bites, about the size of the hollow if I cup the palm of my hand, but flat and squared. I mixed together some bread crumbs with a generous amount of crushed red pepper flakes and coated the bites in the mixture. Finally, I filled a frying pan with a thin layer of peanut oil and fried all of the bites for a couple minutes on each side, until browned. I think this made about 10, but I ate a couple before they made it to the table!
These were REALLY good, especially dipped in mushroom soy sauce. The crispy outside with the sort of creamy inside made Nathan call them the plant-based, Chinese answer to mozzarella sticks. Not that they actually taste anything like mozzarella sticks, but they fulfill a similar desire. These were definitely the best dish of the day—and I have enough radish left over to make another batch today!
So, here are the dish rankings for yesterday’s competition, from best to worst:
- Daikon Radish Bites – this was a truly fantastic dish which will definitely be repeated regularly in our home (but not too regularly, because, while nutritious, they are certainly not healthy) – 5/5 all around!
- Apple and Radish Smoothie – a very strange and surprisingly successful offering… I recommend you try it, but make sure you keep an open mind!! And don’t expect to drink a lot of it at once. By the way, we turned the leftovers into popsicles! – 3/5 for taste but 5/5 for creativity and intrigue
- Daikon Radish Sushi – a good dish, but a dish that didn’t necessarily require or feature the daikon radish – 4/5 in taste, but 3/5 for its use of the radish
- Bahn Mi Bowl – conceptually interesting, but the radish was more of a side note than a feature, and the end product was far too vinegary. A regular bahn mi would be better, and this wasn’t really worth all the time it took – 3/5 all around
- Spicy Pickled Daikon Radish – a dish that we know is delicious if done properly, but our rendition was not done properly – 1/5, we threw the rest away
The overall winner? NATHAN! Congratulations, babe. This time you whupped my butt. My confidence after lunch was unfounded! This just goes to show that creativity really counts.
Follow my blog to see what our next secret ingredient will be!