Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Earthbound


There is just no accounting for where inspiration will come from. Carrot and cumin have become a classic pairing, so I have been long tempted to try my hand at a Moroccan salad of just that. I love the warm earthiness of cumin, and carrots are a good, sturdy staple that can usually be found in any kitchen. But there was just one caveat: all the recipes I found stated that the carrots should be just barely cooked. Even in his book Plenty, Ottolenghi calls for al dente carrots.


I have an aversion to crunchy, cooked carrots. It's a long story, but it boils down to this: between the ages of three and ten, I was unable to eat raw carrots under any circumstances. Cooked carrots could slip by me only if they were reduced to mush, and camouflaged under lots of other things. I have since come to appreciate the humble carrot, whether grated raw in a salad or chopped into sticks on a crudité platter. And cooked carrots no longer need to hide in dark corners of my plate.


But they need to be cooked. Completely. There's something about under-cooked carrots that reminds me of those carrots I despised as a child. I'm not normally a difficult eater, but some things just can't be helped! While I rarely balk at deviating away from a written recipe, for some reason, I hesitated in trying the salad. Even though I could've easily cooked the carrots longer. No one needed to know.

And so the inspiration (or should I say the push?) I confess that on really busy days, I would sometimes feign an urgent errand so that I could take a break. (You need to understand that in the restaurant industry, breaks are not readily granted on overly hectic days.) I would then rush out to a nearby upscale supermarket to buy a ready-made salad that had piqued my fancy. It was a cumin-y carrot salad with spelt, prunes and goat's cheese. The combination sounds a little odd, but it works. And most importantly, the carrot were chunky and buttery soft.


The following is my take on that salad, minus the goat's cheese and the prunes. Feel free to add either if you are curious, as they bring an interesting dimension to the salad. I would recommend a creamy, un-aged goat's cheese. I also used farro because  it appears to be easier to find in shops. Farro (and spelt) is an heirloom grain, ancestor to modern wheat. It can usually be found in natural and bulk food shops, but if you have trouble finding it, you can substitute it with barley, wheat berries or even wild rice (cooking times may vary.) All grains take a ridiculous amount of time to cook, barley being the one exception. If you can get your hands on par-cooked grains, use those. Otherwise, you need to soak the grains for at least 30 minutes (overnight is better) before cooking. Cooked grains do keep well though; at least three or four days in the fridge, or about a month in the freezer.


Carrots, Cumin and  Farro Salad
Serves 2 as a main, or 4 as a side

3 medium carrots
1 Tbs cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
75g/½ cup farro
1 lemon
olive oil
salt and pepper 
8 mint leaves, optional
1 clove garlic, optional

Soak the farro in plenty of water, and set aside for about 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, top and tail the carrots, then peel. Slice the carrots in 1cm/ ½" rounds.
Place the carrots in a pot, along with half the cumin seeds, the coriander seeds, the peel of the lemon, and a generous pinch of salt. Cover with cold water, and bring to the boil.
When the water has come to a rumbling boil, turn down the heat to medium-low, and let the carrots simmer for about 10 minutes, or until the carrots are cooked through.
Drain he carrots, remove the lemon peel, and set aside.
In a dry pan, toast the remaining cumin seeds until medium-brown and fragrant. Add to the carrots.
To cook the farro: drain the soaking water, and place in a saucepan with plenty of fresh water and good pinch of salt. Bring up to a gentle simmer, and leave to cook for about 20-30 minutes. Spelt is cooked when the grains are soft but still chewy and whole. Drain and mix with the carrots.
Squeeze the now-peeled lemon, and pour over the salad. Toss with a few tablespoons of olive oil.
Finely chop the mint and garlic, and mix in, if you are using them.
Adjust the seasoning, and serve. 


This salad is best served just barely warm or even at room temperature. It is filling enough to be served on its own, but would also make a nice side to roasted fish or something from the grill.



Bon app'!



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