"Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage" by Haruki Murakami & Orange Endive Salad
In many ways, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is a quintessential Haruki Murakami novel: a solitary male protagonist searching for something, characters who share long stories, dreams that may or may not mean something, doubts about reality, unabashedly loose ends, references to classical music, and a brush of otherworldliness about it all.
Murakami’s novels are like Rorschach tests; you can learn a lot about a reader by how they interpret the strange details or, in this case, colors.
The four closest high school friends of the book’s namesake character all have last names that contain a color: Akamatsu (red pine), Oumi (blue sea), Shirane (white root), and Kurono (black field). Tsukuru’s name also has an interesting meaning— tsukuru is the verb "to make or build" – yet he describes himself as pallid, wondering what he contributes to the group long before they abruptly stop talking to him one day. This unexplained desertion marks Tsukuru, dividing his life into before and after. While not the most dramatic of traumas, it’s often the simple heartbreaks that hurt the most and stay with us the longest, a theme that the novel subtly explores as we follow Tsukuru into adulthood.
True to his name, Tsukuru becomes an engineer with a focus on railroad stations, but it’s only when his girlfriend urges him to untangle the emotional knots left by his past that he decides to find his colorful friends and learn what happened. While I was as eager as Tsukuru to uncover the mystery, Murakami is a master of reminding us that no matter how many questions we ask, we can never really know everything about people, even those we consider closest to us.
Despite being about a man in his thirties, I think this story will resonate strongly with teenagers and “new adults.” The persistent fear that you are uninteresting or unimportant is particularly poignant today, when we have the entire Internet to make us feel bland. And while Tsukuru’s passion for train stations may not be revolutionary, it allows him (and us) to take the pulse of the world around us and to appreciate how beautiful the blending of different lives can be, whether it’s for a few treasured years in school or a few anonymous minutes on a train platform.
A colorful salad seemed like the perfect dish to represent the assortment of characters from this book. I chose endives as the base because even though the bulb is mostly colorless, it ties all the other flavors of this winter salad together: bright oranges, green avocado, zesty lemon vinaigrette, and toasty brown almonds. Much like Murakami’s novel, this dish appears simple but winds up being richer than the sum of its parts (and it’s crazy easy to consume a ton of it in one sitting).
ORANGE ENDIVE SALAD
For the salad
4 large handfuls of spring greens
6 mandarin oranges, separated into segments
1 bulb endive, quartered, cored and sliced into super thin strips
1 avocado, diced
2 ounces (about ⅓ cup) goat cheese, crumbled
3 tablespoons sliced almonds
For the vinaigrette
¼ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice (more to taste)
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
pinch sea salt
pinch freshly ground black pepper
Lightly toast the almonds: In a small skillet over medium heat, toast the almonds for a few minutes, stirring frequently so they don't burn. Once the almonds are fragrant and starting to turn golden, remove from heat and transfer to a plate.
In a large serving bowl, combine the greens, segmented oranges, sliced endive, diced avocado, goat cheese and warm almonds.
In a small bowl, whisk together the salad ingredients until emulsified. Whisk in more olive oil if the dressing tastes too tart.
Once you're ready to serve, drizzle vinaigrette over the salad (you might not need all of it) and toss. Serve immediately.
If you want leftovers, store the salad and vinaigrette separately.
Recipe adapted from Cookie and Kate