Wednesday, December 11, 2013

One Great Dish

A quarter of the way through David Tanis' new cookbook, One Good Dish:  The Pleasures of a Simple Meal, he features a dish that's somewhat deceivingly called "Radishes à la crème."  Recipes that include the phrase "...à la crème" tend to be on the rich side.  They also tend to be served warm.  This dish, however, is neither--instead, it's cool, fresh, and light, and yet perfect for late fall and early winter.

"Radishes à la crème" is a remarkable salad--one of those rare dishes that far exceeds the sum of its parts--but Tanis is awfully humble when it comes to introducing it.  He writes:  "Only four ingredients--radishes, salt, pepper, and crème fraîche--yet they make an extremely tasty raw vegetable first course."

He must have felt a little stronger about this recipe than he's letting on here.  He must have been aware of both its surprisingly wonderful flavours and its strong visual appeal.  He must have realized that, in many ways, this was a dish that summed up the vision (and the genius) behind One Good Dish.  He must have known that this is not just one good dish, it's one great dish.  After all, "Radishes à la crème" is granted pride of place on the cookbook's cover

one good dish fig. a:  please judge this book by its cover

and it's also afforded a two-page photographic spread (as opposed to just a single photograph) on the inside.

radishes fig. b:  inside scoop

And he was right to do so.  It's a stunner.  No matter how much you might like radishes and crème fraîche, you can't possibly imagine that they could possibly taste this great together.  And if you're not really a fan of either, this recipe will make you a believer.

Now would be a perfect time to make "Radishes à la crème."  While so many other fall vegetables have already disappeared, you can still find nice radishes.  And with holiday meals often on the heavy side, this recipe provides a quick and easy way to lighten things up.  Plus, it looks so pretty.  And if you choose the right radishes, they even resemble snowflakes a little.

winter radishes fig. c:  perfect for the holidays

Use the freshest, tastiest, most beautiful radishes you can find.  Use a nice crème fraîche, too.  If you don't make your own, Liberté brand, here in Quebec, makes a very good commercial version.

Don't skimp on the salt or pepper, either.  This recipe only calls four ingredients, after all, and it costs virtually nothing to make.  Use a nice sea salt, like Maldon salt, and grind the best black pepper you can find over your salad right before serving.

Radishes à la crème 
1/2 pound radishes (red, black, white, watermelon, or even daikon)
sea salt
1/4 cup crème fraîche, or a little more, if you like
a few drops of milk (optional)
freshly ground black pepper 
Use a very sharp knife or, even better, a mandoline, to slice the radishes as thinly and uniformly as possible.  Lay them out on a large plate or in a bowl.  Sprinkle sea salt over top.  Garnish with a whole radish or two, if you like. 
If your crème fraîche is thick, stir it vigorously with a spoon for about a minute to lighten it up, or thin it with a few drops of milk.  Spoon it generously over the sliced radishes.  You can either dollop the crème fraîche in the center of the arrangement, or drizzle it all over the radishes.  Finish dressing the salad by grinding black pepper over top according to your taste. 
Serves 4. 
Optional embellishments: 
1 tbsp fruity olive oil, drizzled over top 
spicy radish sprouts 
chopped chives  
(We haven't tried any of these variations yet, but they all sound great.) 
This salad is quite simply our favourite dish right now.  We literally can't get enough of it.  We'll finish off a plate of "Radishes à la crème" and immediately start talking about the next batch we're going to make.

But there's much, much more to One Good Dish than just "Radishes à la crème."  In fact, when Tanis was in town to launch his book at Appetite for Books earlier this fall, he didn't even prepare this recipe.  Instead, with the help of Jonathan Cheung, the store's owner, he presented a classic warm lentil salad à la française, some simple cucumber pickles, and a pumpkin seed brittle, all straight out of the book.  I'm not sure he realized it at the time, but this trio was also ideal for a climate like Montreal's--all three were recipes that we could easily prepare even in deepest winter (given we can find some hydroponic cukes).

Finally, in addition to lovely salads, dips and spreads, soups and stews (meals you can eat with only a spoon), dishes that should ideally be made in a hot cast-iron pan, simple desserts, and so on, One Good Dish also comes with a glowing recommendation from none other than Yotam Ottolenghi.  Will this become the next Plenty?  I'm not sure, but One Good Dish is definitely one of our top picks of the year.


p.s. For more on David Tanis and the WWDD lifestyle, check out this post on Tanis's pho bo, this one on his New Mexico-style green chile stew, or this early one on his Swiss chard gratin (a variation on which also appears in One Good Dish).

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