So, I know I said that I’m going for simple dishes right now, but I had to make an exception for this sexy little number. I mean, just look at it. Can you say no to this salad?
I didn’t think so.
I want to be forthright with you and let you know right from the start, this is a fussy piece of work. But it’s worth it! Worth it for the oohs and ahhs it will garner, as much for its flashy good looks as its gorgeous layers of flavors.
It’s a “chef recipe” (different from a chef salad!), hence the little twists and turns of technique that take extra time and attention but also elevate a salad to dinner party fare, or beyond. The original recipe is from ABC Kitchen in New York (I think that means it errs on the side of haute) and translated for the home kitchen in the new Serious Eats cookbook.
I saw it on the food52 website, and my I-need-to-cook-that-right-now-dar started beeping like a metal detector in Fort Knox. (Do metal detectors even detect gold? They do, right? I’m imagining one of those goofy paddle-shaped ones people bring to the beach, not the kind you walk through before going into a government building.)
I have an oddly tempestuous relationship with carrots. I’ll go on binges of eating them, taken in by their blithely orange color and the goofy knobbly tapered shapes. And then, I’ll suddenly hit a moment where I wonder whether I even like carrots. Aren’t they kind of dull? Aren’t I kind of horrendously sick of them?
And then I melodramatically swear off the vegetables, crying vehemently that they’ll never get me back!
But I do come back. Because I’ll stumble upon a recipe for carrots in some alluring form, glazed or slow roasted, Moroccan-spiced or tucked into little hand-pies, or in a show-stopping salad like this, and suddenly I’ll be at the carrot bin once more.
I’m thrilled by this return trip.
I can’t decide whether the textures or the flavors are more where it’s at with this salad.
The carrots are first simmered until tender, which also leaches out any of the acrid chemical taste that carrots (even organic ones) can sometimes have. Then you bathe them in a sweet-spicy marinade redolent with cumin, garlic and thyme and spiked with a bit of vinegar. Next you roast them until they are wrinkled and almost candy-sweet inside.
One of the fascinating, brilliant steps in this recipe is that you roast half of an orange and lemon alongside the carrot sticks. Then you squeeze the cooked juices of the fruit into the dressing.
You tuck silky slices of ripe avocado in amongst the carrots, a combination of flavors and textures that very nearly doesn’t work but in the end is somehow deliciously addictive. This you top with a tangled mop of lacy greens and a tiny hailstorm of crunchy sesame seeds.
Then you slick the whole thing with a spoonful of the warmly citrusy dressing. And, just for good measure plop a jaunty white cap of creme fraiche on top.
After you marvel at the stunning orange and green loveliness of your salad (ignoring how these are colors one might have decorated ones livingroom with in the ’60s or ’70s – complete with shag carpet), I strongly suggest you proceed by swirling that little nip of creme fraiche all about, creating ribbons of creaminess, and a salad that is no longer too pretty to eat.
Because after all those steps and all that composing, you certainly deserve to eat it.
Roasted Carrot and Avocado Salad (serves 4) adapted from the Serious Eats Cookbook, via food52
- 1 1/2 pounds small carrots (3 to 4 inches, ½ inch thick – please don’t use those packaged baby carrots though! Those things creep me out.), or large carrots quartered and cut into 3-inch segments, peeled (I actually omitted the peeling step, I like the bit of extra texture)
- Kosher salt
- 1 orange
- 1 lemon
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 2 medium garlic cloves
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
- about ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 avocado, peeled and cut into thin slices
- 2 cups mixed tender greens (like baby lettuces or mache) and baby sprouts (if you like sprouts)
- 4 tablespoons crème fraiche
- 2 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds
- Put the carrot pieces into a pot, add enough water just to cover them. Bring them to a boil, then turn them to a simmer and cook, covered, until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain.
- In the meantime, cut the lemon and orange in half. Juice one half of each. Put 2 tsp. of this juice, the garlic, cumin, thyme, red pepper flakes, 2 Tbs. of the olive oil, and the red wine vinegar into a food processor or blender. Blend until mostly smooth.
- In a roasting pan, toss the carrots and the two unjuiced fruit halves with this marinade. Sprinkle everything with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven at 450F for about 20 minutes, until the carrots are wrinkly and browned in spots. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
- When the roasted orange and lemon half are cool enough to handle, squeeze their juices into a small bowl. Add the remaining orange and lemon juice (from the halves that you didn’t cook) to this. Whisk in 4-6 Tbs. of olive oil and a quarter tsp. each of salt and pepper. Taste and add more salt and pepper to taste.
- On 4 plates, arrange the carrots and avocado slices. Then, divide up the greens and arrange them on top of this. Sprinkle the sesame seeds over the salads, drizzle them with the dressing (you’ll have leftover dressing – it’s good on all sorts of things), and add a Tbs. of creme fraiche to the top of each salad.
- Serve. Oooh. Ahhh.