Jun 9, 2008

Exotic Carrot Salad

There's been quite a lot of sugar around here lately, what with that yeast roll dough beckoning from the fridge to be made into all manner of sweet delights. So for a little balance, here's a savory dish that's a refreshing and tantalizing way to eat your vegetables.

The recipe comes from Padma Laksmi's Tangy Tart Hot & Sweet. I bookmarked this recipe early on to try, because it, like many of the recipes in this book, was just so intriguing. Wrap your head around this combination: carrots, balsamic, lime, orange oil, cilantro, sesame seeds, chiles, dried cranberries and za'atar. Za'atar is a Middle Eastern spice blend made with oregano, thyme, sesame seeds and sumac. I was first introduced to it in a Nigella recipe for za'atar chicken on fatoush salad. Will make that one for you soon. You could make your own blend, or find it in Austin at Phoenicia. It adds another dimension of flavor to this recipe, but if you want to try it without it, I think you'll still be quite satisfied.

The other ingredient you'll probably have to go looking for is orange oil. Don't make this salad without it. It's the key ingredient. Look for the tiny orange oil bottles near the extracts at Central Market, Whole Foods, gourmet shops and online.

I love carrots, but don't usually make carrot-heavy dishes, because my husband, who will eat just about any crazy thing I want to try, hates carrots. But this was just so intriguing a combination, I had to try even if it meant eating it all myself. But get this, he liked it! Said he'd be happy to add it to the rotation of our favorites.

This would be a great side with roasted fish or chicken or added to an Indian or Middle Eastern feast. I think it would also be a great potluck dish. I'm always intimidated by potlucks. You just know you're going to bring the same thing as everyone else and there you all sit, looking at three bowls of tabbouli and four pasta salads. Nobody else will be bringing this one, but I bet they'll ask for the recipe after trying it. Give it a shot and see what you think.

Note: I saw some beautiful red carrots at the farmers' market. I used one pound of those and another pound of regular orange carrots. They're all orange inside and taste the same. I just couldn't pass up the chance to photograph those red beauties.

Exotic Carrot Salad

1/4 cup olive oil
4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons lime juice
1/4 teaspoon pure orange oil

2 pounds carrots, peeled and cut into matchsticks or shredded
2 1/2 cups cilantro leaves
1/4 cup white sesame seeds, toasted
2 green chiles, minced
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/4 teaspoon za'atar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Whisk together the dressing ingredients in a large salad bowl.

Add all the rest of the salad ingredients except the za'atar and salt. Toss together.

Sprinkle the top with za'atar and salt just before serving.

Refrigerate if not serving immediately. Best served same day or the dressing will start pickling the salad. (My husband liked it even better the next day when the carrots were softened by the pickling, but I liked it better fresh with a little more snap.)

Serves 6 or more generously.

Adapted from Padma Lakshmi's Tangy Tart Hot & Sweet.

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