This Zesty, Lightly Cooked Starter Doubles as a Side
We tend to treat carrots as supporting players — they may serve as flavor enhancers for soups or stews, or as a sidekick to meat. When served raw, they often function mainly to convey dip from bowl to mouth.
But with their terrific flavor and color, carrots are well worth serving on their own.
And this traditional Moroccan dish brings out their potential. Brief cooking mellows their woody texture, while gentle spices mix with lemon and olive oil to envelop them in smooth, subtle flavor.
Like many Moroccan “salads,” this one can be eaten at the beginning of the meal, or as a side dish (where it pairs exceptionally well with grilled and roasted poultry, fish, or meat).
Either way, it will steal the show at your table.
Recipe: Moroccan Carrot Salad
In last week’s post on Moroccan Orange and Radish Salad, we noted that the American-style salad course isn’t traditional in Morocco. Instead, the host places several light salad-like dishes on the table at the beginning of dinner — some of which remain there throughout the meal. This traditional carrot salad is one of the dishes typically served at the beginning, and it often stays on the table until the main course is finished. But at a Western table, it works equally well when served by itself as a starter, or with the rest of the meal as a side.
This recipe features cooked carrots (there are also raw versions). For this dish, you steam or boil the carrots until they are just tender, then marinate them in spices and lemon juice. Right before serving, you mix them with olive oil (which combines with the lemon juice to form a sort of vinaigrette).
When I lived in Morocco, I had countless variations on this and similar dishes. My recipe is adapted from Paula Wolfert’s 1973 Couscous and Other Good Foods From Morocco. A couple of years ago, Wolfert updated and expanded the book, retitling it The Food of Morocco.
This recipe takes about 20 minutes to prepare, and it benefits from some resting time (at least an hour — see Step 4). It will serve 4.
- 1 pound carrots
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional but tasty; you may want to double this amount if you really like spicy)
- ~¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon (I generally use just a bit less than ¼ teaspoon)
- ~¼ teaspoon granulated sugar (I generally use just a bit less than ¼ teaspoon, but to taste)
- ~1½ tablespoons lemon juice (or juice from one lemon; I often use a bit more than this)
- salt to taste
- 1 to 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- flat-leaf (Italian) parsley for garnish (a tablespoon or two, chopped)
- Scrub and peel the carrots, then cut them into dice of about ½ inch, or sticks measuring about 3 inches by ½ inch. Steam (or boil) carrots until just tender — usually 6 to 8 minutes.
- Meanwhile, mince garlic finely.
- Remove carrots from heat (drain if you boiled them) and place in a serving bowl. Add minced garlic, paprika, cumin, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, sugar, and lemon juice. Mix, taste, and add salt to taste.
- Chill the carrot mixture for at least an hour.
- Right before serving, drizzle on olive oil and mix briefly. Garnish with chopped parsley.
- Exact ingredient quantities aren’t critical for this recipe. I sometimes add more garlic and/or lemon juice, for example.
- And I sometimes add black pepper to this dish — it provides a nice note.
- Although Moroccan food features lots of spices, the dishes are not especially hot. Moroccan cooking does use cayenne pepper, but generally in small amounts (as I do in this dish), so the heat quotient is minimal.
- The quantity of cayenne pepper in this recipe is typical — perhaps even slightly on the high side. But if you like spicy, you might want to increase the amount.
- If you prefer a garnish that’s zippier than parsley, you can substitute chopped cilantro.
- You can also substitute wine vinegar for the lemon juice. Basically, this recipe is a template, and you can change up things to suit your cravings of the day.
Riddle Me Mayo
“I’m glad to see we’re having another Moroccan dish,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs, with perhaps the tiniest note of triumph in her voice.
“Of course!” I answered. “I’ve been on a salad roll for the past couple of weeks, and Morocco has some great ones. Plus, you — uh — mentioned that you’d like more Moroccan when I made that terrific Moroccan Orange and Radish Salad last week.”
“Indeed,” said Mrs K R, with a smile. “So what’s up next?”
“Well, I want to make one more salad, a main course lettuce-and-chicken one with mayonnaise.”
“Works for me,” said Mrs K R. “Let’s do it!”
“OK, but first we have to think about the mayo component,” I said. “Store-bought mayonnaise works perfectly well, but homemade is magic in that dish. So in the next post, we’ll make our own mayo. Then in the following post, we’ll put it to work in the salad.”
“Sounds terrific!” said Mrs K R. “And it represents a major philosophical breakthrough.”
“What do you mean?” I puzzled.
“Well, you’ll be answering the age-old riddle about which came first, the chicken or the egg,” she said. “You’ll use eggs to make mayo, right? And then you’ll use the mayo for the lettuce-and-chicken salad.”
I always hated that riddle.
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