My Citizens, today I am honored to share with you a nearly-extinct ethnic recipe ingrained deep into the Ashkenazic (Eastern European) Jewish psyche!
The now very rare black radish was mixed with chicken fat, onion, salt and pepper to provide much-needed calories during the harsh Eastern European Winter. This was a necessity for Jews who were so poor that this was quite literally all they had to eat during these harsh times.
Those of us “of a certain age” remember our grandparents or great-grandparents serving this, though today it is practically vanished except in a few very old-school deli holdouts like Sammy’s in NYC.
I for one remember my great-grandmother making this for me when she was 95 years old, and had nearly forgotten about it until recently.
Since I could not find a recipe for it anywhere, I recreated it (with the addition of thyme, roasted garlic and cooked onions) and I think it came out amazing – try it and see!
The taste is amazingly light, yet with a piquancy that just makes you want to keep eating it, spread on country bread in the way of our Ashkenazic ancestors…
It’s also healthier and better for you than butter, by the way!
As noted on pjourway.org:
Most Americans are familiar with red radishes, but black radishes were historically the radish used most often in Jewish cooking.
Black radishes were said to have been a favorite food of the Maccabees and because of this they were later used in Hanukkah dishes.
A classic Jewish dish of grated black radish, chicken fat, onion, salt and pepper was common in 19th century Lithuania, Ukraine, and northern Poland. In the story by Sholem Aleichem ‘Tevye Goes to Palestine’ (Fiddler on the Roof was based on the Tevye stories), Tevye refers to Eretz Israel as “the place where black radishes and chicken fat are not eaten.”
This seminal shtetl recipe is still a prized part of Belorussian cuisine, where it is still enjoyed today but made with goose fat and raw onion.
Black radish season ends in April, so you still might be able to find some! If not, you can buy seeds for planting them next year here.
Freshpoint.com describes them as follows:
They can be almost as pungent as horseradish, and are firm and rather dry in short, nothing like the little red radishes that have graced salads and crudite platters for time immemorial.
These sturdy, somewhat daunting, characters are roughly the shape and size of a Turnip, sooty black or matte black-brown on the outside and white-fleshed. Their dense flesh has proved great for extended storage in root cellars through the years.
People of Russian, Polish, German, Hungarian, Ukrainian, Lithuanian and/or Jewish heritage will recognize a Black Radish on sight, but the uninitiated may need a little coaxing to try them.
Use Black Radishes to make amazing garnishes. Scrub the vegetable and carve away, leaving designs of black and white. In most countries that serve them, black radishes are enjoyed as an appetizer, but not eaten straight.
They are either coarsely shredded or sliced thin, salted to mellow the bite, then rinsed, drained, and bound with sour cream or chicken fat or radish slices are dipped in the latter. This unlikely and delicious duo is usually offered with pumpernickel or chewy sour rye bread.
Citizens, this is not a difficult recipe and it is supremely delicious – whether you’re Jewish or not, I hope you see fit to give this recipe a try and bring back a nearly lost classic!
Battle on – The GeneralissimoPrint
The Hirshon Jewish Shtetl Black Radish And Chicken Fat Spread – שוואַרץ רעדיש און הינדל פעט
- Total Time: 0 hours
- 2 large black radishes
- 2 cups+ rendered chicken fat – homemade (preferred) or Empire brand is available in many supermarkets
- 1 1/2 large onions
- 4 cloves roasted garlic (TFD addition – optional)
- 3 sprigs fresh thyme (TFD addition – optional)
- Flaky Maldon sea salt or kosher salt
- Coarsely-cracked black pepper
- Wash the radishes, dice (skin and all) and puree in the food processor. Heat at least 2 cups of schmaltz on medium heat, add in thinly-sliced onion, garlic and thyme, heat till onion is cooked through.
- Add onion and garlic (not the thyme), and as much fat as you like (it will need most of it) to the radish, + salt and pepper, puree and refrigerate.
- An amazing spicy and rich spread on crackers or bread alike!
- Prep Time: 0 hours
- Cook Time: 0 hours
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My father (whose family was indeed from Belarus — Minsker Gubernye) made this for me once, just with chicken fat and kosher salt. The radish was sliced and cut into pieces, not shredded. It was strong but delicious! By the way, “radish” in Yiddish is “retakh” and chicken fat is “shmalts”. You could say “hindl shmalts” but you don’t have to because chicken fat is the default, although in Europe goose fat was also very popular.
Amazing stories and info, Citizen Jeffrey! Thank you!