Serve this Fragrant Dish as a Starter or Side
In my local markets, California navel oranges are plentiful, inexpensive, and of excellent quality. In fact, their peak season runs from February through April, so we’re now getting them at their sweetest and most succulent. I’ve been feasting on citrus all winter — peeling and eating it for breakfast, snacks, and desserts. But with warm weather arriving, it’s time to use oranges in salads.
Enter this Moroccan Orange and Radish Salad. It combines sweet oranges with peppery grated radishes — and then douses everything with aromatic orange blossom water. That may sound a bit odd, but the combination works extraordinarily well.
You can serve this dish as either a starter or a side (it goes great with grilled meats or barbecue). And because it’s sweet (with a hint of spice), you could even get away with serving it as a savory dessert.
So think of this as three recipes in one. You can’t get any more versatile than that!
Recipe: Moroccan Orange and Radish Salad
Years ago — when I was just out of college — I lived in Morocco, and that’s where I first ate this salad. This dish, which is served throughout the country, has countless variations.
Moroccan meals traditionally don’t start with the sort of lettuce-based salad that is common in the US. Instead, at the beginning of a meal, the host sets a variety of dishes on the table. The mix typically includes salad-type dishes like this, but also plates of olives or vegetables. And everyone helps himself to a bit of whatever looks good. Once the diners have taken the edge off their hunger, the host generally removes some (but not all) of the dishes. Then the main course — usually a tagine (stew-like dish) that includes some meat or fish — will appear. This Orange and Radish Salad is one of the dishes that’s likely to stay on the table throughout the meal, thus serving as both starter and side dish.
This recipe calls for an ingredient that many people don’t usually have on hand: orange blossom water (a/k/a orange flower water), which is "a clear, perfumed distillation of fresh bitter-orange blossoms”. Although rarely seen in Western cooking, this ingredient is worth seeking out. It’s available in all Middle-Eastern grocery stores, as well as many specialty markets. It’s also readily available online — just do a search for it.
You can make this recipe without orange blossom water (and in Morocco I had it without several times). But the dish is so much better with it — orange blossom water has a wonderful fragrance and flavor. So you really owe it to yourself to track it down. Besides, once you have it on hand, you can add a bit of it to your Homemade Grenadine the next time you make some!
My recipe is adapted from Paula Wolfert’s 1973 Couscous and Other Good Foods From Morocco. A couple of years ago, Wolfert updated and expanded the book, retitling it The Food of Morocco. I don’t own the newer version, but I did check it out from the library just to see what it was about. It’s essentially the same book, but with some new information and many new recipes. If you’re looking for a good basic book about traditional Moroccan cooking, there’s no better source that I know of in English.
This recipe takes about 20 minutes to prepare, and it benefits from some resting time (no more than half an hour — see Step 2). It will serve 4.
- 1 or 2 bunches of radishes (the round or long red ones; about 8 ounces)
- 1 - 2 tablespoons granulated sugar (to taste; less is more, IMO)
- ~1½ teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (basically the juice of one lemon)
- ~1 tablespoon orange blossom water (optional, but read Headnote for why you should use it; I often use just a bit less than a tablespoon)
- salt to taste
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional; not traditional in this recipe, but nice; see Notes)
- 3 navel oranges
- 1 or 2 tablespoons chopped mint leaves or a dusting of cinnamon to garnish
- Wash and trim the radishes, then grate them coarsely. You can use a box grater for this. But it’s much easier to cut the radishes into quarters and then pulse them briefly in a mini food processor. But don’t overprocess — you want them to retain a chunky texture (so don’t puree).
- Place the grated radishes in a bowl that is large enough to hold them and (eventually) the oranges. Add the sugar, lemon juice, orange blossom water, salt to taste, and optional cayenne pepper. Toss together. Refrigerate the mixture, letting it marinate for 15 to 30 minutes, until chilled (alternatively, you can proceed immediately to the next step, without chilling).
- A few minutes before you’re ready to serve the salad, peel the oranges. It’s easiest to do this with a paring knife, removing both the orange skin and the white pith. You can then either section the peeled oranges (you’ll see their natural separations) or cut them into thin discs parallel to the orange’s equator (this is my usual method).
- Add the oranges to the radish mixture, and toss together. (If there’s any excess juice from cutting up the oranges, I add that to the bowl too.) Garnish with mint leaves or a dusting of cinnamon, and serve.
- Exact ingredient quantities aren’t critical for this recipe. I sometimes reduce the amount of orange in the dish and increase the quantity of radishes, for example.
- And I sometimes add black pepper to the dish — it provides a nice note.
- Although Moroccan food features lots of spices, the dishes are not especially hot. Moroccan cooking does use cayenne pepper, but generally in small amounts (as I do in this dish), so the heat quotient is minimal.
- Cayenne pepper isn’t typical in this particular dish, but I think it contrasts well with the sweetness of the sugar and oranges.
- Spearmint is the mint of choice in Moroccan dishes, although most other mint varieties work well too. Peppermint is a nice substitute.
- Spearmint, BTW, is generally used in Moroccan tea — a sweet and fragrant mixture that’s consumed throughout the country (and something that’s traditionally served to anyone visiting a home).
- This dish combines well with many Western meals (it goes especially well with flavorful grilled meats or barbecue). I particularly like to make this salad in the spring, when I can get good-quality California navel oranges and early spring radishes.
Cook the Kasbah
“You haven’t made anything Moroccan in years!” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs as she tucked into her Orange and Radish Salad. “You really should do more of it — this is so good!”
“You’re right,” I agreed between mouthfuls. “Our cooking kinda goes in waves sometimes — we get going in one direction, and forget about other things.”
“I’d say you’ve forgotten about Moroccan for way too long,” she replied. “We need more dishes like this.”
“OK, but I’ve got loads of other stuff I need to post about,” I said. “I still have more salads to make in the next couple of weeks — including that great mayonnaise one I promised everyone a few posts back.”
“Well, I’m sure you can fit another Moroccan salad into the mix, can’t you?” Mrs K R inquired. Sweetly. But with that tone every spouse knows.
So, um, expect another Moroccan dish — sooner rather than later.
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