Saturday 12 January 2013

Moroccan-Spiced Carrot and Chickpea Salad with Mint & Almonds

I think carrots are both underrated and neglected.  How many classic dishes of world cuisine feature carrots as the starring ingredient? You can count them on one hand: Carrots Vichy, Moroccan carrot salads, spicy Indian carrot pickles, carrot cake and... um... that's four fingers... can someone help me out here?

Moroccan-Spiced Carrot and Chickpea Salad with Mint & Almonds
A flavour-packed vegetarian salad featuring carrots
 in a starring role. 
Truth is, the humble carrot is not a particularly versatile veggie.

Sure, when small and snappy and sweet, it's lovely raw, or lightly cooked in plenty of salty butter. But the minute a carrot reaches the length of a pencil, it tends to be booted like an elderly aunt into stocks, stews and soups, or julienned into coleslaws, or grated and mixed with fresh orange juice and raisins to create the vilest salad known to mankind.

Well, I think we all ought to eat more carrots. They're inexpensive, they're packed with healthy nutrients and fibre, and they have a lovely subtle flavour.

The trick to getting the best out of a carrot is figuring out how to achieve a Goldilocks texture: not too crisp,  not too mushy, but somewhere in between.

Part of the attraction of a good young carrot is its texture (most kids, for example, love slim sticks of raw carrot) but the truth is that you can only eat so many uncooked carrots without feeling as though you're munching  your way through a plateful of twigs.

In the same way, a  bowl of cooked-to-mush carrots can quickly bring on a case of the dry-heaves in children, possibly putting them off this nourishing vegetable for life.

Moroccan-Spiced Carrot and Chickpea Salad with Mint & Almonds
This salad keeps very well in the fridge.
How do you avoid this 'yuck' factor? Here is my solution: cook them to a perfect state of tender-crispness, lightly season them with some North African-inspired spices, and combine them with toasted almonds, chickpeas, parsley, mint, garlic and olive oil.

This salad's dressing may seem pungently flavoured, but when everything has had a chance to mingle over an hour or two, its flavours are quite delicate, and you can still taste earthy carrots below the spices.

This dish improves with keeping, and the carrots will retain their tender-crisp bite for several days in the fridge. It's good on its own, and excellent with hot spicy roast chicken, or shredded chicken from the left-overs of a roast.

Please see my Cook's Notes at the end of the recipe for some variations on this salad.

Moroccan-Spiced Carrot and Chickpea Salad with Mint & Almonds 

For the salad:

1.2 kg carrots (about 14 medium-sized carrots)
1 tin (410 g) chickpeas, well drained
4 Tbsp (60 ml) sultanas
150 g (about two 'wheels') feta cheese
½ cup (125 ml) finely chopped fresh parsley
6 Tbsp (90 ml) finely chopped fresh mint
2 tsp (10 ml) poppy seeds [optional]
6 Tbsp (90 ml) flaked almonds, lightly toasted in a dry frying pan (see Cook's Notes)
extra small fresh mint leaves, for garnish
salt and milled black pepper

For the dressing:

2 tsp (10 ml) finely grated fresh ginger
2 fat cloves garlic, peeled and finely grated
1½ tsp (7.5 ml) cumin
1 tsp (5 ml) good fresh paprika (see Cook's Notes)
½ tsp (2.5 ml) powdered ginger
½ tsp (2.5 ml) cinnamon
the juice of a large juicy orange
the juice of two big lemons
½ cup (125 ml) olive oil
salt and milled black pepper

First make the dressing. Whisk together all the dressing ingredients in a small bowl and set to one side.

Top and tail the carrots and lightly peel them using a sharp potato peeler. Slice the carrots into discs about 3 mm thick. The quickest way to do this is to use a food processor fitted with a metal slicing disc, or a stout-bladed mandolin. If you have neither of these, sit down at a table, turn up the music and patiently slice the carrots by hand.

Bring a pot of salted water to a rapid rolling boil.  Drop in the carrot slices, cover the pot and immediately set a timer to 5 minutes.  When the timer goes, fish out a carrot disc and bite into it. It should be just tender, but with some resistance and snap.  If it feels feels hard and crisp between your teeth, give the slices another minute or two.  Drain the carrots in a colander and then put them in a mixing bowl. Immediately pour the prepared dressing over the hot carrots - their residual heat will take the bite out of the raw garlic and ginger.  Mix in the sultanas and chickpeas, cover with clingfilm and set aside at room temperature for an hour or two, or in the fridge if you are planning to serve this the next day.

Just before you serve the salad, stir in the chopped parsley, mint and (optional) poppy seeds. Pile the salad onto a large pretty platter and crumble the feta cheese on top.  Drizzle over a little more olive oil and scatter the flaked toasted almonds on top. Garnish the salad with some small fresh mint leaves, and season to taste with salt and milled black pepper.

Serves 6 as a main course salad; 8-10 as a side salad. 

Cook's Notes

  • Chopped fresh coriander is a lovely accompaniment to carrots, but it does have a domineering flavour which stomps all over the delicate spicing of this dish.
  • In place of the flaked toasted almonds, you can use toasted pumpkin or sunflower seeds. 
  • If you have a jar of preserved lemons to hand, add some of them, finely chopped, to the salad for a wonderful salty zing. 

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gloeiwurmpie said...

Loved this recipe! I had a whole bunch of fresh carrots from my garden and had no idea what to make...This one is going into my recipe file :)

Jane-Anne said...

Thanks Wurmpie!

Kit said...

I made this tonight as a side dish for a braai - it was lovely, great flavours.
Ironically after all our tweets on fresh ginger, I found that I had only a tiny piece of wizened old ginger left, and none in the freezer. I'm sure it will be even better when I've got some lovely fresh juicy ginger!

Jenna said...

This dish is fantastic. I LOVE it! I make a bunch of salads like this for my work lunches, and this recipe will be a permanent staple. A big THANK YOU :)