December 22, 2018

The Hungry Poet: Carrot Salad Edition

This time of year I end up buying ingredients for specific dishes--and then, the leftover odds and ends clutter up my pantry for a while. Rather than letting them wither and go stale, I have to remind myself to make dishes that can incorporate these "leftovers." Soups and stews are great for this. So is carrot salad.

The main ingredients:

-Shredded carrots (originally bought for a stir-fry)
-Chickpeas (originally bought for a curry)
-Golden raisins (originally bought for a cauliflower dish)
-Sliced almonds (originally bought for a salad)

You can set the proportions however you want, but I like 2: 2: 1: 1. Meaning I used 2/3 of a store-bought bag of shredded carrot, a can of chickpeas, about a half-cup of raisins, and about a half-cup of slivered almonds. 

A lot of recipes for Moroccan carrot salad (which this loosely resembles) present this as something to assemble raw. But uncooked carrots, onions, and peppers can be difficult for folks to eat. I prefer to cook it all lightly together, to soften the ingredients.

To start?

Using household staples, this is my base for...well, just about everything.

-Tablespoon of olive oil
-Two shallots, chopped fine
-Spoonful of chopped garlic
-Serrano pepper, sliced thin (can substitute with jalapeño, poblano, etc.)

After that's been sautéing together for a couple of minutes, push your base to the sides of the pot (or pan, or wok), put in the carrots over the burner's main heat, and season. Drizzle in a little extra olive oil if it looks dry. Let that cook on medium for a few minutes, and stir together. Turn the heat to low--at this point, you're not really "cooking" so much as heating things through--put in the chickpeas, season, and warm for another couple of minutes. Finally, stir in the golden raisins (seasoned) and the slivered almonds (toasted). 

Total stovetop time is about ten minutes. Then transfer to your storage / serving bowl. I like to chill or rest everything together for at least an hour afterward, so the flavors can marry, but it's not essential. 

To season?

Years ago, I got in the habit of associating each spice or flavoring agent with a single main ingredient, rather than adding them all at once. I think the palate notices each element more clearly that way. So when I add the carrot, I season them with cumin (maybe about a tablespoon). When I add the chickpeas, I season them with cayenne or paprika (no more than a teaspoon). I plump up the golden raisins with a big splash of red wine vinegar and olive oil, to balance their sweetness.  

To toast the almonds?

Toasting nuts can be maddening. You wait, and wait, and wait; you turn your back on the toaster, and they burn in seconds. Then I learned the trick of toasting nuts in the microwave. (Yes, really.) Spread in a thin layer--I use a handled bowl, uncovered--and take advantage of the microwave's "minute plus" function, tossing and checking each time. Toasting a half-cup took three minutes.

Toasting nuts in the microwave for garnish is an especially good trick for when you're hosting a dinner party, and toaster / oven / stovetop space is in high demand. 

To finish?

I zested a lemon over the mix, then squeezed in about half the juice. Salt and pepper to taste. Fresh herbs would be great here--chopped parsley, mint, cilantro, or basil. But again, the point is to use what you've got handy. I reached for the jar of dried cilantro and stirred in a few generous shakes. 

A big batch will last in the fridge for a few days and can be used any number of ways: 

-Paired with arugula or spinach for a larger salad, perhaps with good canned tuna; 
-warmed and served alongside roasted chicken and rice; 
-layered on top of toast;
...and forked cold out of the fridge, in the middle of the night, by a hungry poet. 

1 comment:

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