It’s hot. It’s miserable. If you wash down a triple cheeseburger and a bucket of fries with a milkshake in this weather, you could die.
Why not whip up a batch of Mr. Gurdjieff’s special salad instead?
Gurdjieff’s teaching is very strange and doesn’t lend itself to summarization, but one of the fundamental ideas is that people are asleep and need to wake up. (Colin Wilson named his book on Gurdjieff The War Against Sleep.) Approached with care and full attention, all sorts of everyday tasks can aid in waking up, especially preparing and eating food. As Dushka and Jessmin Howarth—Gurdjieff’s daughter and her mother, respectively—explain in It’s Up To Ourselves:
Of all the examples Gurdjieff might have used to illustrate the essential aspect of his teaching, “quality of attention,” he chose the one experience that all human beings share: “When you do a thing, do it with the whole self, one thing at a time. Now I sit here and I eat. For me nothing exists in the world except this food, this table. I eat with the whole attention. So you must do—in everything. To be able to do one thing at a time—this is the property of man, not man in quotation marks.”
So if you eat this salad with the right kind of attention, maybe you’ll learn something. And if you believe John Shirley, Gurdjieff’s salad cured Frank Lloyd Wright’s gallbladder trouble, so maybe it will mend your aunt’s dyspeptic gut, too.
Gurdjieff at the dining table with his student, Lord Pentland
Gurdjieff’s niece, Luba, describes the preparation of the special salad in her Memoir with Recipes but does not give measurements or step-by-step instructions, presumably because Gurdjieff never made the salad the same way twice. She warns that preparing the dish takes all day and “costs the earth,” since you “put anything you can find” in it:
Chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes, celery, any vegetables you can find — only raw vegetables. Not lettuce, because lettuce gets very soft. It used to have nuts in it; it used to have green olives you cut in pieces away from the stone; it used to have sometimes prunes in small pieces — it was like a dustbin. Chutney — he used to put lots of chutney. Sweet chutney that must be cut in small pieces, because chutney generally comes in nice big pieces. And he used to like those little green things in vinegar — capers. Twenty, thirty things used to go in that salad. Sometimes he would even put apples — any kind apples. I think he would put anything he could find in there.
There was always put in some tomato ketchup. I remember they used to bring it from England because we couldn’t find any in Paris. And dressing he just put on a little bit vinegar and then some oil.
The Howarths’ book gives its own recipe for the special salad, which you can find here, but this recipe from the Gurdjieff Foundation of Del Mar is the least intimidating of the bunch and certainly does not “cost the earth”:
1 large sweet onion, finely chopped
4 very red tomatoes, diced in half inch pieces
2 cucumbers, diced in half inch pieces (pickling or goutas with the smaller seeds)
3-4 pickled cucumbers diced small
¾ cup freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
1 cup pickle juice
¾ cup apple cider
¾ cup tomato juice
1 Tbsp tomato paste
3-4 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp white sugar
1 pint apple chutney, diced into ½” pieces
1 handful finely chopped parsley
1 handful finely chopped fresh dill
Salt, pepper, cayenne, paprika and curry powder to taste.
This recipe will serve twelve to fifteen people depending on the size of the portions. Since this is such a special dish (and it is also time consuming to dice all the vegetables), you will want to prepare this for company. However it does keep well for three or four days after it marinates, and I love having leftovers as the flavors get a bit stronger each day.
As you dice the vegetables add each of them to a large mixing bowl and mix. Add the juices, the tomato paste, the mustard, the sugar and the chutney and mix again. Add the parsley, dill and the seasonings. It should be pleasantly hot and spicy. Cover and marinate in a cool place for two days before serving. Add a bit of tarragon before serving.
Below, watch Peter Brook’s 1979 movie of Gurdjieff’s Meetings with Remarkable Men.