Radish Leaf Pesto


Radishes are moving beyond the relish tray. 

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto


More and more home cooks and chefs use them as a vegetable – steamed, sautéed, stir-fried and more. Last night I dined at Artusi in Seattle and this extraordinary fresh sturgeon with a garlic confit sauce was served with lightly cooked French breakfast radishes.

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto


In Asia, where radishes were likely first enjoyed, the large daikon radish is used in a variety of warm and cold dishes, including soup, savory pudding, dipping sauces and pickled condiments. 

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

Today you can find radishes in an array of colors, flavors and sizes from black, to mild white “icicle” radishes and of course the familiar red button radishes. Spring and fall are good seasons to seek radishes and add them to your cooking and nibbling. 

Nutrition Note Three ounces of red radishes have only about 15 calories, however they offer more than low-calorie crunch. Radishes are in the family of cancer-fighting cruciferous vegetables, along with other nutrient powerhouses (broccoli, kale, collards, turnips and Brussels sprouts) that contain gucosinolates, (sulfur-containing glucosides), precursors to cancer-fighting isothiocyanates and indoles.   Radishes are also an excellent source of vitamin C and red radishes contain disease-fighting pigments (anthocyanin) which are in the flavonoid group of phytochemicals. 

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto


Why toss the tops? I’ve served Radish Leaf Pesto to friends several times and many are surprised that the leaves are edible.  They have a subtle peppery taste that can be used like spinach, kale or other greens.  In this pesto, I pair radish leaves with another underappreciated green, fresh sweet marjoram.  In the mint family and related to oregano, the Greeks called marjoram “joy of the mountains.”  They used it at weddings and funerals because in Greek mythology marjoram was favored by Aphrodite, the goddess of love.

There are more uses for pesto than pasta. Swirl Radish Leaf Pesto into a minestrone or other vegetable soup. Slather it on fish filets or chicken before cooking.  I’ve even used it as a topping for a flatbread, along with thinly sliced tomatoes and a shower of pungent cheese.

 Radish Leaf Pesto

Toss this with whole grain chunky shaped pasta like the gnocchi photographed here. Garnish with crunchy fresh radishes or lightly cooked sliced radishes. To cook, add sliced radishes to the pot of pasta during the last 30 seconds or so of cooking; drain with the pasta and toss with sauce. 


2 cups radish leaves, thick stems discarded (about 2 good-sized bunches of radishes)

4 tablespoons fresh marjoram leaves

1/3 cup toasted pine nuts

1/3 cup finely shredded fresh parmesan cheese

2 cloves garlic*

1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 to 3 tablespoons water from blanching garlic, regular water or more olive oil, as desired

In food processor bowl, combine radish leaves, marjoram, pine nuts, cheese, garlic, lemon zest and salt.  Process until finely chopped, scraping bowl once or twice.  With machine running, slowly pour olive oil through feed tube.  Continue to process until smooth.  Thin with 2 to 3 tablespoons water or more olive oil as desired.  Makes enough pesto for ¾ to 1 pound of pasta.

 *For milder flavor, simmer the garlic briefly in water: Combine garlic with ¼ cup water in microwave-safe cup. Heat on high for 30 seconds or until bubbling.  Cool, reserve garlic and water for pesto.


Cruciferous Vegetables:  American Institute For Cancer Research. http://www.aicr.org/foods-that-fight-cancer/broccoli-cruciferous.html

Glucosinolates: bioavailability and importance to health.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11887749

Seven Healthy Facts about Radishes by  Ana Ferrer, WebMD the Magazine


Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs, Claire Kowalchik and William H. Hylton, Editors. Rodale Press, 1987.


© 2014Lorelle Del Matto

lorelle About lorelle

Crazy about cooking, eating and sharing good food – my work and leisure revolve around the kitchen. As a culinary dietitian my professional life encompasses nutrition counseling and education, recipe development, product development, food and nutrition writing, marketing communications, corporate test kitchen and consumer affairs management, food styling and work as a product spokesperson.


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