Digging Daikon

Japanese radish in a thick, creamy sesame-mustard sauce.

The other day, I found myself with an extra daikon lying around the house.

Don’t you just hate it when that happens?

Oh, it’s not like I temporarily lost it in the wash or found it underneath a sofa pillow. It’s just that I had bought a couple of these white, carrot-shaped, 14-inch-long Japanese radishes for a braised dish, and was left with one remaining one that didn’t quite have a purpose yet.

The mild radish, which also comes in Chinese and Korean versions, can be enjoyed raw or cooked. My Japanese-American husband fondly remembers his late-Mom grating it and mixing it with shoyu for an easy dipping sauce. And anyone who’s ever eaten sashimi at at Japanese restaurant will recognize it immediately as the crisp, white strands that so often brace fanned slices of raw fish on a plate.

I was hankering to use it as an easy side dish of some sort when I found just what I was looking for in the cookbook, “At the Japanese Table” (Chronicle Books) by Lesley Downer, a cooking teacher and journalist fluent in Japanese who splits her time between London and Tokyo.

“Simmered Daikon with Hot Sesame Sauce” is as easy as it gets. Slice the daikon, then simmer until tender in dashi, the Japanese mother stock made with dried kombu seaweed. For ease, you can use instant dashi — available in bottles or dried granules that you mix with water.  For extra convenience, you can probably get away with using chicken or vegetable stock.

The warm, tender daikon is then topped with a simple sauce made with white miso, mirin, powdered English mustard, some of the dashi cooking liquid, and toasted sesame seeds. If you have a jar of tahini in the fridge left over from making hummus, you can use that instead of the sesame seeds. Garnish with sprigs of cilantro, if you like.

The sauce is creamy, savory, very nutty and with just enough of a sharp mustardy tickle to make things interesting. It’s a sauce that would be great on warm new potatoes or steamed asparagus spears, too.

Like so many Japanese dishes, it’s not full of bling. It’s just a handful of simple ingredients that come together to form something more beautiful than its parts.

I’m glad my extra daikon found its destiny in this shining dish.

Simmered Daikon with Hot Sesame Sauce
(Serves 4 as a side dish)

1 daikon radish, peeled

2-inch square dried kombu seaweed, wiped (or use instant dashi, following the proportions on the label)


For Hot Sesame Sauce:

1/4 cup white sesame seeds

2 tablespoons white miso

2 teaspoons mirin

1/2 teaspoon powdered English mustard

2-3 tablespoons dashi cooking liquid

For garnish:

Tiny sprigs of cilantro, washed and patted dry (optional)

Cut the daikon radish into 1-inch slices. Bevel the top and bottom edges, if you like. Put the kombu, daikon slices, and enough water to cover generously into a medium-sized saucepan and add a little salt. Cover, bring to a boil, and simmer for 20-40 minutes, depending on the size of the daikon, until it is very soft and slightly translucent.

To make the sesame sauce, toast sesame seeds. Set some aside to use as a garnish and grind the rest in a mortar and pestle until they turn into paste (or use commercial tahini). Blend in miso, mirin, and mustard, and dilute with enough warm dashi to make a thick, creamy sauce.

To serve: If the daikon slices are small in diameter, serve 2 or 3 per person in small deep bowls. Top each slice with a spoonful of sesame sauce and garnish with coriander sprigs and toasted sesame seeds. Serve hot.

Adapted from “At the Japanese Table” by Lesley Downer

More Japanese-Inspired Dishes: Romaine Hearts with Miso-Mustard Dressing

And: Lamb Shoulder Steak with Japanese Curry Oil

And: Clam Udon

And: Saute of Market Vegetables with Miso Butter

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