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Saturday, April 6, 2013 - Page updated at 11:30 a.m.

Taste
Don't like radishes? Then you haven't had this salad

By Nancy Leson
Seattle Times food writer

EATING A FRESH radish daubed with soft, sweet butter and coarse sea salt might seem strange — but only if you've never done it. And certainly not if you're from France, where the radish is God's gift to snackers and the French Breakfast variety is called that for good reason.

Ah, but who needs April in Paris when April in Seattle brings the start of summer radish season? (Wait, don't answer that.) Now is the time when hope springs eternal for brown-thumbed gardeners like me. Plant seeds today and fresh radishes will spring up, ready to eat in a month.

What do you mean you don't like radishes? I'm here to change your mind.

For too long I viewed the "table radish" (as the European varieties are known) as a rosy looker, not a big player in my kitchen repertoire: I appreciated them for their garnish quotient, but found the flavor too peppery as a main attraction. Eventually my palate perked up, and the fresh crunch got my attention. So did the wider variety now available at our local farmers markets and specialty grocers.

Among them: the milder, cylindrical, white-tipped French Breakfast; the tapered White Icicle; the rosy-orbed Cherry Belle; and the Easter Egg radish, grown from a seed blend that produces vibrant spheres in rainbow hues that would look at home in an Easter basket.

If you're not growing your own, be sure to buy bunches with sprightly greens and wispy root-ends intact, and look for those that are heavy rather than spongy, with smooth, unblemished skins.

Then take a page from my husband Mac's favorite Moroccan cookbook, where a recipe for orange and radish salad — toyed with over time — has become a versatile accompaniment to a multitude of meals at our house.

Mac never makes this the same way twice, sometimes using tangerines instead of oranges. An apple or pear works, too, so long as you add a hefty splash of lemon juice to make up for the lack of citrus. If there's a stray carrot or sweet bell pepper around, those add crunch and color. Don't have mint? Use cilantro. And be sure to toss well: The idea, he says, is that every mouthful offers a hit of sweet, salt, citrus and crunch.

Take a hint from Mac's wife: Invest in an inexpensive handheld mandoline for slicing the radishes (we like the Kyocera ceramic version, but you can consider its OXO cousin). And grab an extra bunch of radishes for eating out of hand — perhaps with some butter and salt.

Once you've sampled this radish dish, if you're still not sold, give this a go: roast them. Preheat a rimmed baking sheet in a 450-degree oven. Toss two bunches of cleaned, trimmed and dried radishes with olive oil, salt and pepper and roast for 15 to 20 minutes, turning occasionally, until wilted.

Nancy Leson is The Seattle Times' food writer. Reach her at nleson@seattletimes.com.

Mac's More Rockin' Radish Salad

Serves 4

1 bunch radishes, rinsed, trimmed and very thinly sliced

1 English cucumber (about 2 cups), peeled and diced

2 sweet oranges (or three tangerines), sectioned and diced

2 thin slices of sweet onion, minced

2 tablespoons fresh mint, finely chopped

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon kosher salt

3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon honey, warmed to thin

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

In a large bowl, mix together radishes, cucumbers, orange, onion and mint. Add the olive oil and toss until salad-fixings are well-coated. Add salt and toss. Add vinegar and toss. Add honey and toss. Season with black pepper. Serve immediately.

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