Friday recipe: food for thought and for dinner

How was it that Charles Darwin was a geologist when he proposed the theory of evolution? How was architect Mick Pearce able to use lessons learned from termites to design an attractive, functioning office building in hot Harare, Zimbabwe, that uses no air conditioning? The answer: They tapped the intersection where different fields meet, taking existing concepts from each to produce extraordinary new ideas.

What did you do to get your last bright idea?
What did you do to get your last bright idea?

That’s the premise of Frans Johansson’s fascinating 2006 book, The Medici Effect. It’s named after a fifteenth-century Italian banking family that drew people from a wide range of disciplines to Florence, resulting in “a remarkable burst of creativity,” the effects of which Johansson says, can still be felt today. He describes how each of us can do the same to find “intersectional ideas and make them happen.”

The basic approach is to break down the “associative barriers” we use to find order, group things and create structure in our environment. Often helpful in everyday life (when your dining guest wants pesto, say, you know to pick up some fresh basil, olive oil and pine nuts on the way home), these barriers can block innovative thinking. Johansson suggests countering them by doing one or more of the following:

  • Expose yourself to a range of cultures
  • Learn differently
  • Reverse your assumptions
  • Take on multiple perspectives
  • Work in interdisciplinary teams

All of which is a long way to get to today’s recipe by chef and restaurateur Marcus Samuelsson, another innovator Johansson notes in The Medici Effect. Born in Ethiopia and raised in Sweden, Samuelsson for years has blown the minds and tastebuds of New Yorkers by drawing from different cuisines to assemble surprising but highly palatable dishes (you say “pesto,” he says “dill”).

That in turn led me to check out one of Samuelsson’s books, New American Table, which has recipes like latkes with apple-horseradish sauce, proscuitto with feta and watermelon, smoked salmon-pear blankets, and coffee-cured duck salad with cranberry vinaigrette. While today’s recipe is a bit tame in comparison, I hope it inspires you to break down some associative barriers and birth some brilliant ideas.

Chorizo-style meatballs with tomatillo-avocado salsa
From New American Table


  • 1/2 pound each ground lamb and ground pork (I substituted 1 pound of ground turkey)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon mild chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil


  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 serrano chile, seeds and ribs removed, finely chopped
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 tomatillos, finely chopped
  • 1 ripe avocado, halved, peeled, pitted and cut into cubes
  • 1 red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 jalapeño, seeds and ribs removed, finely chopped
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 2 cilantro sprigs, finely chopped (optional)
  • 4 drops Tabasco
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

To make the meatballs, mix the ground meat with the garlic, chili powder, salt, cumin, pepper, oregano a paprika in a large bowl. With wet hands to prevent sticking, form the mixture into 12 two-inch balls.

Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Working in batches to avoid overcrowding the pan, add the meatballs and sauté until cooked through, about four minutes on each side. Transfer to paper towels to drain excess oil.

To make the salsa, heat the olive oil in a medium sauté pan over high heat. Add the garlic, chile and shallot and sauté until fragrant, about two minutes. Add the tomatillos and sauté until softened, another three minutes.

Transfer to a bowl and let cool. Fold in the avocado, onion, jalapeño, lime juice, cilantro and Tabasco. Season with salt and pepper and serve with the meatballs.

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