Cognitive Russian Beet Salad

Since I’m spending a week at the IBM food truck for the SXSW festival in Austin and don’t have a kitchen to work on my own recipes, let’s turn to Watson to make us something. (If you wonder what a food truck created by IBM looks like in the field, check out this article and video on Engadget.)

When I introduced the Cognitive Cooking technology, I explained how computers could be creative, and create novel and tasty recipes. It’s worth noting that rather than making all the decisions by itself, our technology engages in a dialog with the users, with repeated back-and-forth interactions between people and the computer. Yes, a machine can be creative, but more importantly, it can help humans be more creative themselves.

Cognitive Cooking - Russian Beet Salad

The Russian beet salad that James Briscione created is a great example. We started with beet as the main ingredient, and naturally chose Russian cuisine for inspiration, due to beets’ long association with Eastern European cuisine. James decided to make a salad, because this was sufficiently vague that he could have more flexibility in the preparation and the plating. The system came back with the following list of ingredients: beets, cucumbers, tomatoes, basil, parsley, red wine vinegar, butter, white beans, pickles, prunes, black pepper (no margarine this time ;)). Sure enough, these were all very Russian. But did they really all go well together? We certainly hadn’t seen a salad quite like this anywhere else.

Here’s what James said about the dish:

Prunes and pickles. Need I say more? This seemingly disparate list of ingredients presents a challenge at every turn. While there are some traditional parings like tomato, cucumber and basil, the connection between beets, prunes and pickles was particularly unexpected. Together the balance of sweet, tart and earthy makes each bite more interesting than the last.

Cognitive Cooking - Russian Beet Salad

Over the course of a few months, as we had people try the dish on various occasions, James ended up doing not one, but three versions of this Russian beet salad, each with the same ingredients (and I imagine he tried a few more in the ICE kitchens). I’ve added pictures of each incarnation throughout this post. As you can see, we drifted a little bit away from the typical salad — the technology is meant to inspire chefs, not to limit them.

James didn’t write down the number of servings, but you can probably make around a dozen appetizer plates with the recipe I’ve shared below. The proportions are in grams, and I have to say I’ve been tempted more than once to do the same with my own recipes. Get a digital scale and some plastic containers, and you’ll measure ingredients faster than you ever have before.

Cognitive Cooking - Russian Beet SaladRoasted beets and prune purée

600 g red beets
100 g prunes
50 g butter
25 g basil, stems
140 g red wine vinegar
5 g salt
1 g ground black pepper

  • Combine the beets, prunes, butter, basil, vinegar, salt and black pepper in a small roasting pan. Cover tightly with foil, and roast in a 350 F oven for 1 hour or until completely tender. Let cool for a few minutes.
  • Peel the beets, and reserve.
  • Discard the basil stems. Transfer the remaining ingredients to a blender and puree until smooth. Add water to adjust consistency as needed.

Cucumber and herb coulis

60 g basil leaves
60 g parsley leaves
150 g canned white beans
500 g cucumber, seeds removed, chopped

  • Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the herbs and cook until completely tender, 3-4 minutes. Refresh in ice water. Squeeze dry when cooled.
  • Place the beans in a small saucepan and cover completely with cold water. Bring to a boil and cook 1 minute. Drain and set aside to cool.
  • Combine the squeezed herbs, cooled beans and cucumbers in a blender and process until smooth. Season to taste with salt.

Roasted tomato purée

1000 g yellow tomato

  • Cut the tomatoes in half and lay flat on a baking sheet. Roast in a 500 F oven until the skins darken and pull away from the flesh, about 20-30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.
  • Squeeze the tomatoes to remove the seeds and discard the skins. Transfer the mixture to a blender and process until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Cognitive Cooking - Russian Beet SaladPlating

Roasted beets and prune purée
Cucumber and herb coulis
Roasted tomato purée
20 g cornichon, minced
micro basil, as needed

  • Cut the beets, and dress with the prune purée.
  • Pour a thin layer of the cucumber coulis into a small bowl. Swirl in some of the tomato purée.
  • Spoon the beets into the center of the bowl and garnish with cornichon and micro basil.

The recipes for the beet salad are courtesy of James Briscione.

The posts on this site are my own, and do not necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies, or opinions.