Sunday, March 30, 2014

Radish Soup & Radish Leaf-Feta Spread on Toasts for Cook The Books: "Twain's Feast" and Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammie) Sundays

What did Mark Twain eat? Or want to eat, or yearn to enjoy after his long journeys outside of America? I can't say I ever wondered about that idea before reading Twain's Feast: Searching for America's Lost Foods in the Footsteps of Samuel Clemens by Andrew Beahrs, our Cook The Books February/March pick, but it turned out to be an interesting and entertaining subject. Our host for this round, Simona of Briciole, selected a book that is an intriguing combination of foodie history and travel (with a little biography and memoir thrown in), that will appeal to foodie nerds and literary buffs alike.  

I had not read much Twain since high school, although a copy of Mark Twain's Letters from Hawaii has been sitting on my to-read pile for quite a while. In Twain's Feast, author Beahrs takes Twain's list or fantasy menu of the American foods and dishes (about 80 items long) that Twain was missing in 1879, while at about a year into the European tour that led to his A Tramp Abroad. Beahrs then explores some of the more obscure regional ingredients to see if Americans are still consuming them today.

Twain's List:

"It has now been many months, at the present writing, since I have had a nourishing meal, but I shall soon have one — a modest, private affair, all to myself. I have selected a few dishes, and made out a little bill of fare, which will go home in the steamer that precedes me, and be hot when I arrive — as follows:

Radishes. Baked apples, with cream
Fried oysters; stewed oysters. Frogs.
American coffee, with real cream.
American butter.
Fried chicken, Southern style.
Porter-house steak.
Saratoga potatoes.
Broiled chicken, American style.
Hot biscuits, Southern style.
Hot wheat-bread, Southern style.
Hot buckwheat cakes.
American toast. Clear maple syrup.
Virginia bacon, broiled.
Blue points, on the half shell.
Cherry-stone clams.
San Francisco mussels, steamed.
Oyster soup. Clam Soup.
Philadelphia Terapin soup.
Oysters roasted in shell-Northern style.
Soft-shell crabs. Connecticut shad.
Baltimore perch.
Brook trout, from Sierra Nevadas.
Lake trout, from Tahoe.
Sheep-head and croakers, from New Orleans.
Black bass from the Mississippi.
American roast beef.
Roast turkey, Thanksgiving style.
Cranberry sauce. Celery.
Roast wild turkey. Woodcock.
Canvas-back-duck, from Baltimore.
Prairie liens, from Illinois.
Missouri partridges, broiled.

'Possum. Coon.
Boston bacon and beans.
Bacon and greens, Southern style.
Hominy. Boiled onions. Turnips.
Pumpkin. Squash. Asparagus.
Butter beans. Sweet potatoes.
Lettuce. Succotash. String beans.
Mashed potatoes. Catsup.
Boiled potatoes, in their skins.
New potatoes, minus the skins.
Early rose potatoes, roasted in the ashes, Southern style, served hot.
Sliced tomatoes, with sugar or vinegar. Stewed tomatoes.
Green corn, cut from the ear and served with butter and pepper.
Green corn, on the ear.
Hot corn-pone, with chitlings, Southern style.
Hot hoe-cake, Southern style.
Hot egg-bread, Southern style.
Hot light-bread, Southern style.
Buttermilk. Iced sweet milk.
Apple dumplings, with real cream.
Apple pie. Apple fritters.
Apple puffs, Southern style.
Peach cobbler, Southern style
Peach pie. American mince pie.
Pumpkin pie. Squash pie.
All sorts of American pastry.
Fresh American fruits of all sorts, including strawberries which are not to be doled out as if they were jewelry, but in a more liberal way.
Ice-water—not prepared in the ineffectual goblet, but in the sincere and capable refrigerator."

That's quite a list! 

Author Beahrs has a true passion for his subject that comes across in the way he researches the roots of the main food items he covers--prairie hens, 'possum and raccoon, trout, oysters and mussels, terrapin (turtle), sheep-head and croakers (fish), cranberries, and maple syrup. He then travels to the locations where Mark Twain would have eaten the ingredient, detailing both the history and the current state today. You can't help but admire his spirit and dedication--although sometimes the in-depth looks at some of the items made the non-meat eater in me a little queasy. I learned far more about the preparation and consumption of raccoon than I ever wanted to. ;-) But, Beahrs' writing, Twain's interesting life, and the focus on real regional American food and its background give this book heart and keep it moving along.

I was at a little bit of a loss as to what to make for my book-inspired dish. I wanted something local, somewhat seasonal, no meat, not fried, no pastry or baking... the list goes on... I ended up going back to the first item on Twain's list, the radish. Easy to get fresh locally and something I don't cook a lot with. In truth, I am not crazy about radishes. If I were coming back from an extended trip and listing the foods I most desired, radishes would not be on that list. I remember my dad eating radishes in the summer, spreading them with butter (actually sadly, it was probably margarine) and salt, and they always seemed too sharp and bitter to me to think of as enjoyable. 

I (mostly) agree with what Beahrs said about the radish being on Twain's list:

"And his enthusiasm is not just due to hunger. If it were, surely he'd have never have opened the menu with radishes. Radishes! I thought of a bowl of them, fresh and crisp, dipped in butter, sprinkled with salt. Peppery, refreshing radishes: wonderful, yes, but probably not the first thing most hungry men would think of."  

While I will never be a plain, raw radish lover, I have learned to appreciate them. A few years ago, inspired by a bright and beautiful bunch at the farmers market, I made three radish dishes--Roasted Radishes, ala Sarah Foster, an Asparagus and White Bean Salad with Feta and Lemon Dressing and Radish Greens with Miso Sauce from Farmer John's Cookbook: The Real Dirt on Vegetables by Farmer John Peterson and Angelic Organics. (If you can find this book it is a treasure trove of information and different veggie recipes, sometimes using the less-often consumed parts like radish leaves.) From that experience, I learned that roasted radishes are pretty yummy, feta cheese is brilliant with radishes and the peppery radish greens are really quite tasty. 

Twain and Twain's Feast author Andrew Beahrs would have consumed their radishes like my dad, raw (with American butter for Twain), but I wanted to do something more interesting. I found this pretty-in-pink Radish Soup recipe at Vegetarian Times. Wanting to use up the leaves from my local red and French Breakfast radishes and remembering that feta-radish pairing, I put together my own recipe of Radish Leaf-Feta Spread for some multigrain toasts. Using up the leaves of the radish, rather than tossing them away seems like something Twain would approve of. I even garnished with some local radish sprouts.

 Radish Soup
 Adapted from Vegetarian Times, April/May 2013
(Serves 6) 

1 lb radishes, halved (about 3 cups)
1 medium russet potato, peeled and cut into chunks
1 medium white onion, quartered
1 Tbsp unsalted butter (I used local butter with Hawaiian sea salt)

1/8 tsp white pepper
(I replaced water with light, low sodium mock-chicken stock)
1 Tbsp prepared horseradish sauce

(I added the juice of 1/2 lemon)
2 Tbsp crème fraîche, plus more for garnish, optional (I used labneh--strained sheep milk yogurt cheese)

Pulse radishes and potato in food processor until finely chopped. Transfer to bowl, wipe out food processor, and set radish mixture aside.

Pulse onion in food processor until finely chopped.

Heat butter in saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, and cook 3 minutes, or until translucent. Add radish potato mixture, white pepper, and 31/2 cups water. Bring soup to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer, covered, 30 minutes.

Remove soup from heat, stir in horseradish, and purée in food processor in batches until smooth. Add crème fraîche, and purée until combined. Season with salt, if desired. Serve garnished with radish, greens, and crème fraîche (if using). (I used labneh, radish sprouts and thinly sliced radishes to garnish.)

Radish-Leaf & Feta Spread
by Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Makes about 2 1/2 Cups)

2 cups fresh radish leaves, washed and drained
4 fresh radishes, coarsely chopped
4 green onions, green and white, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves
1 cup labneh or thick strained yogurt cheese
6 oz feta cheese

2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
sea salt and fresh black pepper to taste
To serve: toasted multigrain baguette with radish sprouts and thinly sliced radishes to garnish

In a food processor, chop radish leaves, radishes, green onion and parsley fairly finely (think a coarse pesto). Whiz the radishes, scallions, and parsley in a food processor until finely chopped. Add feta and pulse until blended in. Place in a bowl and stir in labneh, lemon juice, salt, and pepper.

Chill for an hour or two to blend flavors. Serve on bread topped with radish slices and/or radish sprouts, or as a dip with crackers and fresh veggies. 

"The way that the things were cooked was perhaps the main splendor." --Mark Twain
Notes/Results: The soup surprised me with just how good it was. Silky smooth with a slight kick from the horseradish and just a bit tangy from the added lemon juice. The potato softens the edge of the radishes and I think adding the stock, instead of the water listed in the recipe, helped with that too. This soup would be nice as a dinner party starter or at a pink-themed party or shower. The spread was full of flavor--the radish leaves are much like watercress with their peppery taste and they paired well with the feta. You could of course use cream cheese, sour cream or plain yogurt in this spread, but the thickened yogurt labneh gives it great texture. I loved it spread on the toasted baguette slices and it went well with the soup. I would make both of these again. Don't toss those radish greens! ;-) (But, do make sure you use them while they are still green and fresh)

The deadline for this round of Cook the Books is tomorrow, March 31st. Simona will be rounding up the entries at the Cook the Books site. If you missed this round, join us for April/May when we will be reading and taking cooking inspiration from Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America by Firoozeh Dumas, hosted by Rachel, The Crispy Cook.  

Janet of The Taste Space is here for Souper Sundays--so let's look at her fabulous Mango Chana Masala. She says, "We tend to keep the mangoes plain and unadorned (at least I do, Rob adds it to his breakfast granola) but used some frozen mangoes for this fun twist on chana masala. It kind of a combination of my Mango BBQ Beans combined with Indian flavours. While I have used amchoor powder (raw mango powder) to make a nice chana masala, this was a fun twist since it was hot and sweet, too. The heat came from our newest infatuation: roasted hatch chiles. The flavours complemented each other nicely, especially with the tang from the tomatoes and the earthy tones from the cumin, mustard seeds and garam masala, too. Not too overly spiced. Rob actually made a double batch of this and we shared it with friends. We told them to give an honest opinion of the dish. It was the first time we tried it, so we could handle their feedback. Like us, they loved it! And I hope you do, too."

Thanks for keeping me company this week Janet. ;-) If you have a soup, salad, or sandwich that you would like to share, just click on the Souper Sundays logo on the side bar for all of the details. 

Have a happy, healthy week!


  1. I am amazed by radish soup! I have never thought to use them like that! I'm with your dad, I like the French way, raw, with butter and salt.

  2. I came across a recipe recently that left me craving radishes, which is strange for me. and now here this is doing it again!

  3. Lovely soup, perfectly garnished. I love that you picked the humble radish from Twain's epic menu to make for Cook the Books!

  4. What a super use of radishes, including sprouts, and leaves in a meal Twain would have enjoyed. What a really funny guy he was, I love that "made out a little bill of fare" thenfollowed by that enormous list.

  5. I have some gorgeous Easter egg radishes that I was going to make into a salad tonight. But this just might sway me to the soup side!

  6. What a great soup, Deb. Your post reminded me of my reaction when I first read the list, a few years ago: radishes? Shortly after, I tasted roasted radishes and became a fan and also radish greens (they make a great frittata). I have, however, not tried them in a soup, so I will keep your post in mind once radish season gets going. I like also the spread you made to accompany the soup. Thank you so much for your contribution to Cook the Books.

  7. I thought it was so funny that Twain mentioned radishes as the first thing he missed. Who would have thought. I loved your idea for a soup, too. So unique!

  8. Cathy BranciaroliApril 5, 2014 at 4:35 AM

    I think radishes are underappreciated so was excited to see your treatment of these spicy little guys. Will have a go at the recipe and thanks. It was fun to read everyone's take on Twain too


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