Articles / Why You Should Treat Garnishes Like the Main Event


Why You Should Treat Garnishes Like the Main Event

Published May 30, 2024

Three recipes that give you reasons to do things backwards

Roasted Radishes with Toasted Walnut Purée and Puffed Wild Rice. All photos: Sam Muller

My idea of a good garnish isn’t a “finishing touch.” On the contrary: whether it’s crumbled, dolloped, fried, pickled, or sliced paper-thin, it’s always the first thing to disappear from my plate. It might be meant to add balance or create the “perfect bite,” but when it’s treated with care it holds up on its own; from crunch factor and spice level to brightness and brininess, these small but mighty choices are designed to stir up your senses, and I always want more.

So lately I’ve been gravitating toward a method that I call reverse garnishing. It’s more about gusto than decoration, but it still calls for somewhat of a delicate hand. Things that would typically take up more space on the plate—meat, rice, vegetables—become embellishments. 

With a mindset of starting with the things that typically pack the final punch, in the following three recipes, you’ll find that green onions aren’t finely sliced or given a curl-enhancing ice bath but grilled whole and served in a pile under a ground pork “crumble.” Croutons aren’t lightly scattered over a salad but supersized and topped with their own kind of dressing (hello, tonnato) and a dollop of quickly stewed eggplant (my neighbors deeply loved these). Radishes aren’t julienned or shaved but roasted and nestled in a toasted walnut purée.​​ Sure, puffed wild rice might strongly resemble worms, but looks are exactly beside the point (plus, I tested three other varieties to determine the best airy crunch and optimal flavor, and the wild rice won by a landslide). Feel free to take your own favorite garnishes and switch things up as you please.

Charred Green Onions with Crumbled Pork and Warm Honey-Lime-Serrano Dressing 

Crispy bits? Check. Tangy bites? Check. Charred and spicy goodness? Check. Rather than a small pile of thinly sliced green onion on top of your favorite dish, turn them into a whole platter—including a pork “crumble”—that hits all the right notes.

Jumbo Parmesan-Crusted Croutons with Green Tonnato and Stewed Eggplant  

These are not your average salad toppers—think more along the lines of cubed Texas toast, enhanced with a bright, herby tonnato sauce and topped with spicy, warming eggplant. Coated with infinite shreds of cheese, they’re almost reminiscent of an eggplant parmesan, only in fresher, funkier, and more bread-forward form. You’ll have lots of leftover tonnato sauce—ideal for just about everything—and while fresh lettuce is always welcome, it won’t be missed here.

Roasted Radishes with Toasted Walnut Purée and Puffed Wild Rice

As much as I love the fresh bite of a thinly sliced radish round, leaving them more intact and imparting them with an earthy sweetness through cooking them is the move here—as is dragging them through a puree that’s loaded with toasted walnuts and roasted garlic. With a puffed and seasoned wild rice topping, crunch isn’t lost but reimagined with a lighter touch. Similar to cauliflower in terms of mildness, and to carrots in terms of pairing perfectly with walnuts, cooked radish halves are an ideal vessel for taking on whatever sweet and salty flavors your heart desires.