In Season: Daikon

Ever wonder when you order sushi or sashimi what that dab of crisp, slightly peppery, grated white stuff alongside the pickled ginger and wasabi is? It's the Asian radish known as daikon, and it grows surprisingly well in Oregon.

The oblong crucifer gets its name from the Japanese words dai (large) and kon (root). Although daikon can get enormous if left in the ground, it's usually pulled up when it's about a foot long and 3 to 4 inches in diameter. There are numerous varieties of daikon, but most possess a white flesh that has the crunch of water chestnut but is slightly sweet and mildly peppery like watercress.

Although red radishes and icicle radishes reign supreme on produce shelves, daikon, which looks like a large white carrot, is becoming more readily available along with other Asian vegetables such as bok choy, Napa cabbage and edamame.

Cereghino Farms, 150 acres divided between Gresham and Sauvie Island farms, sows about 20 acres of daikon that will be available at their farm stand in Gresham later in the summer.

Michael Cereghino Jr., who runs the farm stand while his father manages the wholesale business, likes to toss the zesty veggie in with salads or grate it fresh into soups.

Many cuisines utilize daikon leaves much like mustard greens, but most market daikon is trimmed because the leaves don't refrigerate well. Daikon sprouts also are gaining popularity as a tiny, but piercing, peppery accent to seafood and salads.

Cereghino Farms got its start when Giovanni Cereghino traveled from northern Italy via New York to Gresham at the turn of the century. He and his cousin, who founded today's Rossi Farms just down the road, broke ground in an area of Oregon that was dominated by dairy farms. Now, generations later, Michael Cereghino Jr. wonders what will become of his great-grandfather's farm.

'We're losing money every year. American farmers are suffering because we rely so much on buying food from other countries.'

Ever evolving consumer demands trouble him as well. Although the farm is Food Alliance certified (for environmentally and socially responsible practices) and mainly organic, the Cereghinos can't afford to jump through all the hoops required for organic certification.

'We became Food Alliance certified when the organization formed in 1998 because brokers and buyers in the area suddenly only wanted to deal with Food Alliance certified farms. But the times have changed, and now that's not enough,' he says. 'Everyone wants certified organic these days. We have customers who drive all the way out here from Portland and leave empty-handed and upset because although we're a local, sustainable farm built strong by four generations we're not certified organic.'

At the Cereghino farm stand planes shoot across the sky, to and from the nearby airport, while hawks circle lower in the air. Look south from the stand and cars on Interstate 84 seem to eerily glide atop fields of green. Here, highway hum merges with the grumbling of tractors and an old farmhouse sits perilously close to traffic-riddled Sandy Boulevard.

Make a trip to the Cereghino farm stand these days and you'll find farm-fresh strawberries, cherries, beets, zucchini, peas and Walla Walla onions. In a week or so, pints of blueberries will hit the shelves and peaches will follow shortly after.

In addition to Cereghino produce, you'll find other local farms fruits and vegetables, locally cultivated honey, hot sauces, dressings and much more. But you'll have to wait until mid- to late August for Cereghino daikon this year. Due to a late start the spicy and fresh, locally grown daikon will hit the shelves a month later than usual.

Japanese-style Chilled Daikon

A refreshing summer snack

• 1 fresh whole daikon radish

• 6 cups water

• 1 tablespoon soy sauce

• 1 tablespoon granulated dashi* (Japanese fish broth)

• 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar

• 1 or 2 strips of dried kombu* (dried seaweed frond) for flavor (kombu is one of the most popular store-bought sea vegetables; another type of commercial sea vegetable such as hijiki or wakame can be substituted)

• 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped

• 1 tablespoon fresh red onion, chopped

• 1 tablespoon finely sliced green onion

• 1/4 cup fine sliced nori* (roasted seaweed paper)

Peel the daikon and cut into inch-thick rounds.

Put the water, soy sauce, granulated dashi, sugar and kombu into a medium-size saucepan and bring to a boil.

Add daikon and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.

Gently pour daikon and broth into a two-liter container. Add the ginger and red onion. Cover, then set in refrigerator and chill overnight.

The next day place the daikon individually into shallow bowls. Strain the broth and pour over the daikon, until about 1/8 inch from top of the daikon.

Top with green onion and nori, and serve.

Sip the chilled broth as you eat the daikon.

Serves four to five.

*Readily available at Asian markets

Recipe created by sushi chef Lance Dillard of Masu Restaurant (406 S.W. 13th Ave., 503-221-6278)

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