Sunday, September 7, 2014

Creativity and Radish Salad

What does creativity mean?

Creativity doesn't exist in the void otherwise babies would be creative geniuses which they clearly are not. They are a pile of mewling and shitting neuroses.

Creativity works in a context. You take what has come before you and you push it further. Edgier, more vibrant, more in tune with the society of today and tomorrow not yesterday.

Whether scientist or artist, creativity lies in pushing the boundaries outwards in different directions and not in the trivial way.

It's straightforward to make an Indian dish with a non-Indian ingredient like fava beans but true creativity comes from reimagining something that is a classic for good reason in a radically different context.

The triad of radish, salt and butter is a classic one. Radishes, cold butter, sprinkle of salt, sprinkle of herbs. Not exactly rocket science but a potent combination that has gotten many a French housewife and her English counterpart in the 19th century through a dry spell on the table.

Today that butter would be cultured unsalted butter but once upon a time that's all that was available. The defaults have changed so we have to work with the times and specify it.

Why does something so simple work? First off, you have the pungency of the radishes particularly in late summer that is cut down to size by the fat of the butter. The salt is necessary otherwise you wouldn't taste any of the herbs at all. Fatty, pungent, fragrant and salty. Your tongue and nose are loving it.

This combination is well known across the world. There is a classic Persian salad platter consisting of radishes, feta, and herbs. They are just piled onto a dish side by side and the eater can pick or choose as they please. The herbs can be more than one — parsley, mint, tarragon, pepper cress, flat chives all work. Paired with a flat lavash and tucked in, it's as simple as it is delightful.

It's the same combination of pungent radishes, salty fatty cheese, and herbs.

The CC is a big fan of the chef April Bloomfield. She's best known for her "nose-to-tail" eating philosophy which is ironic because she made her name cooking vegetables. Her vegetable dishes are beyond superb.

What's presented below is her version of the classic salad above. Note the care with which she reworks the classic combination and adapts it to an entirely different medium. You still have the same four ingredients — radishes, herbs, salt and fat.

Her description of how to make the salad is a little bit romantic but there's logic there. You can't make this without engaging your hands. You need to knead it to make it work.

This is not a salad you can make ahead of time. You have to serve it at once because you are smashing the basil with the salt and the aromatic component will be lost otherwise. You can prep most of it ahead of time though just there's a last minute component which is quite easy.


15 radishes (cut irregularly into large pieces)

1 cup basil leaves
Maldon sea salt

parmigiano-reggiano (cut into irregular chunks - some large, some thin)

3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil (your best!)
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice

2 cups arugula


In a large bowl, combine the radishes with the basil and 3 healthy pinches of salt. Using your hands, grab handfuls of the mixture and sharply press the basil and salt against the radishes for about 30 seconds to release the basil's aromatic oils.

Add the parmesan and mix again with your hands until some of the cheese is creamy, some is in little chunks and some is still in larger dime-sized chunks.

Combine the lemon and olive oil into a vinaigrette. Toss with the arugula, and the mixture above and serve at once.

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