Rat Tails in the Garden

Rat-Tailed Radish

On most visits to my grandparents’ house, I can usually be found in the kitchen, hovering around my grandmother and her two sisters (AKA “The Aunties”, AKA my extra grandmas) as they prepare that day’s meal. And while many of the kitchen ingredients come directly from the backyard garden that my grandfather usually tends, I rarely venture out there on account of things like bugs and dirt. I mean, I can’t be bothered to have my nice kicks all muddied up now can I?

Truthfully though, my grandfather hasn’t been himself for the past few months, so he and his green thumbs have been inside the house and away from his vegetables in the backyard. But despite my grandfather’s absence from the garden, I still found my grandmother prepping a particularly interesting looking veggie on my last visit to their home.

On the kitchen counter were a bowlful of strange green pods resembling some sort of love child sprung from the loins of a green bean and a green thai chile. My grandmother told me that they were the pods that eventually grow from a radish root if left to its own devices.

Initially, I was quite dubious of this “radish pod” talk. Stuff grows out of a radish root? That’s crazy I thought. Maybe my grandfather had been well enough to go outside and grow these magic beans. Or maybe my grandmother or her sisters had been tending the garden. So I actually went outside to the garden to have a look for myself.


-pi

In Bloom

On any given day, depending on the season, my grandfather’s garden is normally lush with anything from eggplants, to tomatoes, to chili peppers, and any variety of Filipino greens. But other than an expanse of tangled green tendrils, I found not much else in the garden. And within this tangled mess hung hundreds of green pods amidst a smattering of white blossoms.

Radish pods, not chile peppers.

I picked one of the green pods off of the vine and gave it a taste. It was crunchy and fresh, with a spicy peppery bite and a slight bitter aftertaste. It tasted exactly like a radish. Amazing. Something from something that was to be nothing.

Of course, I had to take some of these magic beans home with me. And after some internet sleuthing, I found that radish pods also go by the name of “Rat-tailed Radishes” due to the tapering of the bean to a thin tail-like end. Rat-tailed Radish is a pretty awesome and/or disgusting name depending on how you look at things. I’m in the “awesome” camp.

A bowl of Rat-Tails

The rat-tails (awesome) were made into a simple Labanos (or Rabanos in Ilocano) and Kamatis salad at my grandparents’ house. The rat-tails were blanched and then tossed with fresh tomatoes, fish sauce, and salt. That’s it. A simple and fresh Pinoy salad.

After blanching though, the radish pods do lose a bit of their bite, and I definitely preferred the radish pods fresh rather than cooked. So I recreated the salad in my own kitchen with raw radish pods for a crunchier, spicier, version of the salad.

Fresh and Clean

The recipe below isn’t much of a recipe at all; it’s really just a bunch of fresh ingredients tossed in a bowl. With that said, if you’re lucky enough to come across some fresh radish pods, this simple Filipino salad is a perfect starting point for enjoying rat-tails. The crunchy, bitter, and peppery rat-tails go wonderfully well with tangy-sweet tomatoes and umami-heavy fish sauce.

After that, you’ll find that Rat-tails are also great in stir-frys and pancit, and even in Pinakbet.

Rat-Tail (Radish Pod) and Tomato Salad

Serves 4

1 pound radish pods, washed
2 large ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
3-4 tablespoons fish sauce, plus more to taste
Sea salt, to taste

In a large bowl, combine and toss the radish pods, tomatoes, and fish sauce. Season with salt to taste. Serve immediately.

  • Pinoy Panda May 2, 2011, 3:34 pm

    I don’t see these at the markets. They’re quite interesting and I’d like to try some. I’m off to hunt these rat tails down.

    Reply
  • Liren May 2, 2011, 4:33 pm

    I’ve never seen these before – I’m so fascinated, and hope to find some to try soon.

    Reply
  • caninecologne May 3, 2011, 9:53 pm

    cool! i’ve never seen this vegetable before either. i’ll have to ask my parents if they know about this.

    Reply
  • Ziggy May 4, 2011, 5:30 am

    my goodness. they really look like chillies. is this only growing in the US? very interesting. these maybe young radishes?

    Reply
  • Lisa Linderman May 5, 2011, 11:08 pm

    They’re not young radishes, they’re old radishes. It’s what happens when the radish bolts (sends up a flower stalk). It’s then pollinated by something like my honeybees, which freaking love radish flowers, and the result is seed pods, or rat tails.
    Most of us pull and eat the radish root long long before they ever get to this stage.

    Reply
  • Chimster May 6, 2011, 10:07 am

    Wow! Thank you for the info and the recipe. When we had radishes in our vegetable garden, I let some radish plants go to seeds. I dried the rat-tails and collected seeds. Next time I’ll use them in my cooking. It’s great when you have a vegetable garden, you get to eat the veggies you can not buy. Try fresh green cilantro seeds.

    Reply
  • Faye May 8, 2011, 11:23 am

    A true rat tail radish does not grow from root radish gone to seed. It is a separate vegetable where the pod is what is harvested. It is actually an heirloom vegetable and has been around for many years. It originated in Java and was discovered by the rest of the world in the early 1800’s. It is very well known in England. You plant the seeds in early spring, it takes about 55 days to grow, then you harvest the pods from the approx. 4′ tall plant. It blooms and produces pods all summer long, and actually does well in summer heat. There is only a small growth of root in the ground, not an edible vegetable. It is great in salads or by itself. It is also good in stir fry, but you only cook it for the last minute or so or it loses it’s flavor. The seeds are available in North America as well as Europe. Try it. It is a wonderful flavor.

    Reply
  • TS, eatingclub vancouver May 8, 2011, 5:20 pm

    Wow, the first I’ve heard of these!

    Reply
  • joey May 9, 2011, 7:29 am

    These look so interesting! I will need to keep my eye out for these!

    Reply
  • BurntLumpia May 12, 2011, 4:29 pm

    Pinoy Panda, good luck in finding some, though I don’t know if you will outside of someone’s personal garden :(
    Thanks Liren. They taste as interesting as they look!
    Thanks caninecologne, hopefully your parents can shed some light on them for you.
    Hi ziggy. I’m pretty sure rat tail radishes can grow outside of the US.
    Thanks for the info Lisa.
    Green cilantro seeds sound fascinating chimster.
    Originated in Java, Faye? Very cool, so they’re SE Asian in origin. Thanks for the info.
    It was the first I’ve seen them too, TS.
    Good luck in finding them Joey:)

    Reply
  • sampaloc May 13, 2011, 7:50 am

    marketman has a previous post on it:
    http://www.marketmanila.com/archives/rats-tail-radishes

    Reply
  • Aileen@KitchenKwento September 5, 2011, 3:55 pm

    I love seeing this. We’ve kept busy removing wild radish from the fields and gardens before it goes to seed (but I’ve still nibbled on it here and there). Nice to see what else can be done with it!

    Reply
  • Tasya April 30, 2014, 9:15 pm

    Wow, what a beautiful Spring salad. I love the ineigdrents in them. I love kale, gotta hunt down those baby ones. They really look a lot more tender than the regular ones. ;)3349

    Reply

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