Dan Salls of the Salsa Truck and the Garage Credit: Julia Thiel

“Being a Jew,” Dan Salls says, “I grew up on horseradish. It was at every family party.” So when Won Kim of Bridgeport’s yet-to-open Polish-Korean restaurant Kimski challenged Salls, chef of the Salsa Truck and its West Loop brick-and-mortar location the Garage, to create a dish with the pungent root, Salls says he wasn’t exactly worried. “The joke’s on him, because that’s, like, the easiest ingredient in the world for me.” 

Kim mentioned to Salls that most of the wasabi served in sushi restaurants is horseradish with green food coloring. That got Salls thinking about the intersection between Jewish and Japanese foods. “So today we’re making ‘Jewshi,’ which in my opinion is the single greatest thing of all time,” he says.

“We’ve got a gefilte-fish sashimi with beet horseradish, and we’ve got a potato-pancake nigiri with corned beef and pastrami with horseradish mustard. And of course everything is covered in fresh horseradish, because you can never have enough of that.”

It’s not Salls’s first foray into tweaking traditional dishes. “I have slowly earned a reputation for doing very blasphemous food,” he says. Every couple months the Garage—which usually serves the Mexican food available from the Salsa Truck but is currently undergoing renovations and will reopen in a few months with a new name and dinner menu—has a day they call Oy Vey. Salls describes it as “classic Jewish food done in a very unkosher way.” They’ve made pork-belly pastrami sandwiches, soup with bacon matzoh balls (made with pork fat instead of schmaltz), candied-bacon kugel, shrimp kreplach, and milk-braised brisket. “Fortunately, my grandfather’s not around anymore,” Salls says. “He’s probably rolling in his grave. But my mom thinks it’s funny.”

Beyond his childhood love for horseradish, Salls says that he appreciates its versatility. “You can get the really spicy, piquant kind, and it’s got a really subtle flavor when it’s freshly grated.” For the Jewshi he went with a “more is more” approach, grating horseradish with potatoes for the latkes before forming them into patties that mimicked the shape of the rice in nigiri. He panfried the latkes and smeared two with horseradish mustard (where the wasabi would go for nigiri), topping one with corned beef and one with pastrami. After putting a sprig of dill on each, Salls wrapped them with rye-bread crusts he’d cured in horseradish and salt—”like nori for sushi,” he says.

Horseradish also went into the gefilte fish for the “sashimi”—and onto the fish slices, mixed with a little beet juice for a bright-pink beet horseradish. A few pieces of cooked beet finished off the sashimi, which Salls plated along with the latke nigiri, a dill pickle spear, and generous dollops of horseradish mustard and beet horseradish. Just before serving, Salls grated fresh horseradish over the whole thing.

The pastrami-latke nigiri, Salls said, tastes like a pastrami sandwich—”which is fine with me.” As for the gefilte fish sashimi? “That’s childhood right there.”

“Jewshi”Credit: Julia Thiel

Who’s next: 

Salls has challenged Jeff Wang of the Yum Dum Truck, a food truck serving Asian dumplings and “baowiches,” to create a dish with “pork floss“—seasoned and finely shredded pork that’s fried until it’s dry and fluffy—also known as rousong, “meat wool,” and “meat floss.”