Having a special meaning for many Black people, the barbeque feast is a tradition that dates back many generations and has passed the test of time. While the layout and form of our barbeque meals may differ across regions and families, the staple items displayed are pretty solid — ribs, chicken, potato salad, greens, slaw and baked beans. OK, perhaps spaghetti and mac and cheese, too.
Who doesn’t love these things?
Well, as part of a longstanding festive ritual among friends, just like every year, this year I was ceremoniously asked to bring the potato salad. While I love making potato salad — it’s a dish that has earned bragging rights for me among peers — I decided to switch things up a bit and try something new and less fattening. Yes, yes, I still brought the potato salad, don’t worry.
Perusing the local markets as I usually do, and while shopping for fresh potatoes, I came across some small heads of what appeared to be purple cabbage; but as I learned, they are actually called radicchio. I don’t know about you, but I had never heard of radicchio, pronounced “rad-eek-iyo.”
Taken by the rich color of the deep purple that marks this vegetable, I quickly placed two of them in my basket and then headed towards the fruit section. There, surrounded by an abundance of color, I saw beautiful Asian pears and other wild fruits that captured my attention. It didn’t take long before I slung a few of these exotic fruits into my basket along with the radicchio and headed home, not knowing what I would do with them once I got there.
Emptying my basket, and still not knowing what I would make with the items I’d purchased, I decided to just wash them, taste each one, and let my imagination do the rest. Since I found the bite of the raw radicchio to be pretty strong with a bitter taste, I decided to lightly sauté it to let its natural sugars come out.
I then decided to sweeten things a bit more by tossing in some spears of the fresh Asian pears I’d purchased and adding some chunks of green apple as well. “Hmm,” I thought to myself, “I wonder what it would taste like if I added some raisins?” I did just that, along with some crushed walnuts for crunch — texture is important!
I mixed the items together, tasted it, and quickly knew that I was on to something with this dish. Yep, I patted myself on the back for this creation. I then decided that I would perfect it with some shreds of pork tenderloin, a dash of honey, and a splash of olive oil for good measure. Voila! The dish was done.
As I approached the barbeque with two salad bowls in tow, I was greeted by friends who were sitting outdoors. “Where’s that potato salad, Michelle?” they asked.
“Right here,” I reassured them with a giggle. Noticing that I was carrying more than one bowl, a couple of sisters then followed me to the kitchen to see what I had brought. Lifting back the lid on my radicchio salad, one of them asked, “What’s that?”
Trying not to laugh at the tone of her question, I answered, “Radicchio salad. It’s something new that I want you all to taste.” After a few minutes, and after asking me what was included in the salad, she relaxed her shoulders and agreed to taste it later.
As it turns out, the salad was a hit! Perhaps not as big as the potato salad, but the radicchio salad garnered lots of attention and praise. “Bring that next year,” friends told me, and I agreed.
This year for your barbeque festivities, try something new and innovative. While we don’t have to abandon our traditional foods, there is no harm in being creative and adventurous, is there? After all, you might find yourself with new friends and followers on Twitter, as I did. And who doesn’t like new friends and Twitter followers?
Hey! Somewhere I hear “Champagne Life” by Ne-yo playing. “Let’s toss it up…doot, doot, doot, doot, doot!”
The recipe is as follows:
Lightly sauté one head of roughly chopped radicchio in two teaspoons of olive oil; toss in sliced spears of two Asian pears and one green apple — cubed. Add one-and-a-half cups of dried raisins and a cup of chopped walnuts, and sauté until the radicchio is translucent but not soggy. Place mixture into a salad bowl and toss with two tablespoons of honey. Add slices of cooked pork tenderloin if desired. Lightly sprinkle salt and toss. Serve warm or chilled.
Michelle Lawrence, MA, MPH, specializes in cooking African-based dishes and relationship-enhancing dining experiences for families and couples. She can be reached at 612-251-9516.