A radish is a garnish is a garnish is a garnish. Except when you use your imagination. In France, salted radishes are sliced and layered on crusty buttered bread. In China and Japan, they are eaten fresh, saute'ed and even pickled. And here, radishes can liven up any dish with their hot flavor or become an easy side dish.

Radishes come in black and white as well as red. The Chinese and Japanese grow a long white radish called daikon that looks like an albino carrot. There is also the icicle radish, which is similar, if a bit longer. The black radish is a good storage vegetable, although that property is not really necessary as radishes tend to be plentiful, cheap and easy to consume. And then there is the horseradish; hard as a rock and very sharp.

Radishes appear at the market either in bunches with their green tops still attached or in cellophane bags, their tops sliced off. If you buy the former, be sure to clip off the greens the minute you get home or the radishes will go bad quickly. You can save the greens to add to salads. Those in the plastic bags have a much longer shelf life. But to make sure you buy them fresh, squeeze the bag. The radishes should be firm and unyielding, not soft and rubbery.

Radish butter (from the "Joy of Gardening," by Janet Ballantyne, Garden Way, 1984) is a delicacy. Just place 1/2 cup butter, 1/2 cup sliced red radishes and 1 teaspoon lemon juice in a food processor and whirl together; serve on pumpernickel bread.

Or try a pretty pink radish dip (from "The Victory Garden Cookbook," by Marian Morash, Alfred A. Knopf, 1982) on crackers or served as a dip for raw vegetables. In a food processor, chop 4 cups red radishes. Beat together 1 cup softened cream cheese, 1/2 to 3/4 cup sour cream and 2 tablespoons chives and combine with radishes. Season with salt, pepper, and a dash of hot pepper sauce, if you like.

Radishes, crunchy like water chestnuts, are a great addition to stir-fries. They can even be the focal point; for 4 to 6 servings, heat about 1 tablespoon oil in a wok or frying pan and stir-fry 1 minced garlic clove, 1/2 cup sliced scallions and 4 cups of grated or sliced radishes for 3 to 5 minutes, until the radishes are tender-crisp. Add 2 tablespoons of soy sauce and stir-fry to coat. Serve immediately.

Remember that 1 pound of fresh radishes equals 3 cups whole, 3 1/2 cups sliced, 4 cups grated or 2 cups pure'ed.

To intensify the red of radishes, add a little lemon juice just before the cooking is completed.

Add sliced red radishes to your favorite scalloped potato recipe; the sauce will take on a subtle pink color.

Combine orange slices and thinly sliced radishes. Douse with lime or lemon juice and let marinate. Serve with curry dinners.

Radish sandwiches: Spread french bread with softened butter, top with radishes, and sprinkle with salt.

If you are a prolific radish grower, or just like the looks of all those pretty radishes at the market, below is a radish recipe which only requires a quick stop at the express lane.

Express Lane list: soy sauce, white vinegar, honey, chicken breasts, peanut oil, radishes, sugar snap peas, chili paste with garlic ORIENTAL RADISH AND CHICKEN SALAD (6 servings)

5 tablespoons soy sauce

3 tablespoons white vinegar

7 tablespoons water

6 teaspoons honey

2 boneless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces

2 tablespoons peanut oil

2 cups diced white or red radishes

1 pound sugar snap peas or edible pea pods, trimmed

1 teaspoon chili paste with garlic (optional)

In a small bowl, combine 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 1 tablespoon vinegar, 3 tablespoons water, and 2 teaspoons honey. Marinate the chicken in this mixture while you prepare the vegetables. Heat the oil in a wok or large frying pan and stir-fry the chicken until it is almost cooked, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the radishes and pea pods, and continue to stir-fry until the pea pods are bright green, 2 to 3 minutes.

Remove the mixture to a bowl to cool. Mix the remaining soy sauce, vinegar, water, honey and the chili paste and pour over the salad. Chill and serve cold. From "The Joy of Gardening Cookbook," by Janet Ballantyne (Garden Way, 1984)