There’s a lot of grousing in the US about the poor quality of school lunches these days. And the bad reputation is, overall, well deserved, I’m sorry to say. But, did you know that, at least according to the last national dataset I looked at, on average the nutritional quality of the lunches and snacks kids bring from home to school is actually worse than the nutritional quality of school foods? This varies a great deal with economic status and education and such, but even so, the average lunch a kid brings with them to school in this country is pretty abominable! And, it’s little wonder, given how much cheap and convenient snack “food” there is out there marketed pretty much expressly to be packed for kids as snack or lunch. It’s whack, I tell you!
One of the research studies I’m currently working with is evaluating some aspects of the foods elementary schoolers in this area are packing with them to school, and some of what I’ve seen is fairly astonishing (I can’t actually say more than that because of confidentiality!). Some of the teachers we’ve met are taking matters into their own hands, instituting policies abolishing sweet snacks or sugary beverages from their classrooms (which does not always go over well with parents).
And, I’ve been in a couple of schools where orange snacks are not allowed. When I heard this I was confused for a good long moment. Orange snacks? You can’t have carrots? And then I realized, carrots weren’t the problem, and in fact things like Cheetos (which are especially problematic because little fingers covered with fake cheesy powder are apt to leave stains all over schoolbooks) are so much more common than carrots, that it works to ban orange snacks outright. (I didn’t actually ask, but I’m guessing that if kids do bring carrots or tangerines or something of the sort, this gets an exception to the rule).
Not that I can really blame the kids. Most of the time I wouldn’t want carrots in my lunch, and I actually like vegetables! But, plain old carrots can be a fairly blah snack. (It’s possible that I partly feel this way because I went through a bulk carrot phase a number of years ago, eating pounds of raw carrots at a time for a snack, until I really couldn’t stand carrots any more. I’m still working on fully repairing the relationship.) Sometimes, they’re what you want, but a lot of the time they need something to perk them up. To give them some pizazz so that when you take a bite, you do a double take, and cry, “Wow! Now those are some carrots!” And that, my friends, is where Moroccan carrots come in.
There are a lot of different recipes for Moroccan carrots out there. It’s a traditional recipe, so there may even be as many recipes for Moroccan carrots as there are Moroccan grandma’s. But, they all take humble carrots and dress them up with showy spices and piquant lemon juice. I can’t remember exactly when it was, but at some point last year, there was quite a fuss in the blogosphere over Moroccan carrots, with one food blogger after the next giving them a try and raving about them.
And, because so many people were making them, I flatly refused to get on the bandwagon. It’s not that I’m entirely opposed to bandwagons, it’s just that, well, I prefer my bands to be on the ground and my wagons to carry things like hay bales. Things just work better that way. But, I didn’t forget about the Moroccan carrots, and now, finally, I decided to give them a try…
And I will humbly say that I was stupid not to get on this particular bandwagon. I shouldn’t have waited so long. Showering little nublets of carrot with cumin, coriander, and fiery harissa, coating them with garlic and bright lemon is quite simply a really, really spectacular thing to do with them. I don’t think you can screw it up!
You can cook your carrots, or have them raw and shredded. You can cook your spices, or just make a dressing. You can stick with lemon juice or throw in some preserved lemons. You can play with the herbs. It will still taste good. I, personally, looked over a bunch of recipes that the internets provided for me, and made a sort of smattering of this, pinch of that combination of them. And, then I happily packed it with me in my lunch for several days running. Now that I’ve run out, I may in fact, make some more so I can continue to pack it happily into my lunch.
Admittedly, most third graders will not prefer this to Cheetos. (But some may! It’s worth a shot!) But, I bet you will. And, a lot of us grown ups need to pack lunches from home too! This would be perfect as an accompaniment to a main dish of lamb, poultry or fish (I had some za’atar crusted salmon with my carrots). Or you could have it as a side salad to your sandwich. Or, you could throw in half a cup of drained chickpeas and a sprinkling of feta and you would have a perfectly wonderful satisfying lunch or light supper, all on its own. As long as you don’t have any strict rules about orange foods.
Moroccan Carrots (serves about 4-6)
- 8-10 carrots, peeled and cut into little rounds about 1/4 inch thick
- 1 1/2-2 Tbs. olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 tsp. cumin
- 1/2 tsp. coriander
- 1/2 tsp. paprika
- 1 tsp. Harissa paste (a North African chile pepper and spice paste) (you can add in a bit more too, if you like some real kick to your flavor)
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- juice of half a lemon (or about 3 Tbs.)
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley, cilantro, or mint (or a combination thereof)
- Cook the carrots, covered, in a couple of inches of boiling water for 8-10 minutes, or until they are tender but with just a little bit of crunch left to them. Drain them and set aside to cool.
- In a frying pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat until it shimmers. Add the garlic, cumin, coriander, paprika, and Harissa and cook, stirring, for 1-2 minutes. Then remove from the heat.
- Toss the carrots, spice blend, salt, lemon juice and herbs (whichever you’re using) together until the carrots are well coated. Allow to sit in the fridge or at room temperature for at least a few hours or overnight to allow the flavors to develop.
- Serve cold or at room temperature as a side dish. Or, add some feta and chickpeas to make a main dish salad.