Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Moroccan Carrot Salad

When did Americans cross over from thinking cumin smells like sweaty foreigners to smoky meat? I distinctly remember thinking cumin reeked when I was a teenager. Now I buy bags of seeds at the Indian market and grind them myself.

Pop Quiz: A jar of ground cumin is $5. But a $5 bag of seeds produces about 10 jars worth. If a cheap spice grinder is $15, how many jars until you break even?

Bonus Question: What if you actually remember to bring your Bed Bath & Beyond Coupon in from the car and use it?

Pencils down!

The answer is, I amortized that thing ages ago, because I put cumin in everything. Like these Moroccan Carrots.

The recipe is based on one from Balaboosta by Einat Admony. This book is just perfect if you want to make Middle Eastern food in an American kitchen. Often, books put out by restaurant chefs scare off home cooks because the recipes require thirty weird ingredients and four hours of prep work. The problem is even worse with an unfamiliar cuisine; how do you even know whether you've gotten it right? Admony's recipes are straightforward, and her descriptions make you feel like a welcome guest in her home. (Contrast that with Yotam Ottolenghi's lamentation on the impossibility of reproducing his country's food with the inferior produce available in the West. Whatever, dude!)

Morroccan Carrot Salad
2 1/2 lbs carrots, peeled
2 teaspoons table salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon kosher salt, maybe more
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon hot paprika 
1/2 teaspoon sugar
pinch cayenne
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons thinly sliced green onions

Add the table salt to a large pot of water and bring it to a full boil. While you're waiting, slice the carrots into 1/4" coins and prepare a bowl of ice water. Cook the carrots in boiling water for about eight minutes, until they are just tender. Using a slotted spoon, first move the carrots into the ice bath to stop them cooking any further. Then transfer them to a paper towel to dry so the water doesn't splatter everywhere when they hit the oil.

Empty out the pot, return it to the stove, and turn on the burner to evaporate off any residual water. When the pan is hot and dry, add half the olive oil, then sautee the tomato paste in it for two minutes to caramelize some of the sugars. Add the carrots to the pot and stir them gently a couple of times per minute until they get hot through, roughly 8 minutes. Make a space in the bottom of the pan, then add the minced garlic and sautee it for half a minute before incorporating it into the hot carrots.

Turn off the heat, and whisk everything but the onions into the rest of the olive oil. Pour the seasoned oil over the hot carrots, and stir gently, so as not to mush them. If you taste it now, the salad will have a sour, slightly metallic taste. Don't worry about it - taste again in an hour when the carrots are cool, and punch it up then with a touch more vinegar and salt then if you find it bland. When you plate the dish, stir half the onions into the carrots, and sprinkle the other half on top as a garnish. Best at room temperature, serves 8.

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