I’ll be honest. I don’t love cooked carrots. They’re too often mushy and have that somehow sweet blandness that screams “overcooked”.
But I’ve found that a quick toss in a hot sauté pan does something to carrots that I really enjoy. They stay al dente in the middle, but soften enough so you’re not eating great chunks of raw roots.
Add some vaguely North African flavors to the mix, and it’s a meal I can go to town on. It’s all red onion, ginger, dukkah, cilantro, and lime, tossed together à la Ottolenghi, and served on red quinoa.
Super healthy, super fast, super flavorful. Exactly the way I want to eat.
If you don't have (or can't be bothered to make) dukkah, you can substitute 2 to 3 teaspoons Garam Masala, or even curry powder. Use less, because dukkah contains nuts which mitigates the spices. Woe betide you if you use 3 tablespoons curry powder in this.
The way I cut the carrots sounds more complicated than it is. But here goes: cut the carrot on a 45° angle. Roll the carrot over a little (maybe a quarter or half a turn). Cut again on a 45° angle. You should end up with a vaguely trapezoidal shape. Continue cutting the carrot, and rolling it, until you have a pile of irregularly-shaped bits of carrot, some bigger, some smaller. They will not cook entirely evenly. This is kind of the point.
1 pound carrots, preferably small
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small red onion, chopped
2 to 3 stalks celery, preferably from the heart and with leaves
1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and minced (or grated)
Cooked red quinoa, or other grain of choice, for serving
1. Peel the carrots. Using angled knife strokes, cut them into irregular pieces. Prepare the remaining vegetables.
2. Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the carrots, and toss to coat with the oil. Season with a sprinkle of salt and black pepper, and let cook until beginning to soften and the edges just start to brown, about 3 minutes.
3. Toss in the onion and celery. Cook until just beginning to soften, about 2 to 3 minutes.
4. Add the ginger, dukkah, and white parts of the scallions. Stir to combine, and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute more. Remove from heat.
5. Stir in the cilantro and green scallion tops. Taste, and correct seasoning with salt, pepper, and maybe a squeeze of lime juice if you've got it.
6. Serve over red quinoa, or any other lovely grain.
I’m deeply aware that the way I cook on a weeknight is a skosh more involved than the way most of America cooks. One might even go so far as to call it convoluted. Or even flat-out crazy. Exhibit A. Exhibit B. Exhibit C.
But I figure that, given my job, it’s justified. It’s all just necessary practice, right?
Sure it is. Until I get busy, that is, and I need exactly what the rest of America needs: something resembling food, and fast.
Which is where this recipe comes in. It’s meant to be made in the time it takes to boil water and cook pasta. And I think all but the very busiest of people has time for that on a weeknight.
Having said that, this recipe does still live up to my standards of excellence. All proof that fast food ain’t always bad, and great food ain’t always slow.
You can toast the pepitas if you feel like it. Or don't. Either way it'll be fine.
The panko on top is optional, but I love a little crunch on top of my pasta. If you have time, go for it. If not, no one will ever know.
1/2 pound linguine (or pasta of choice)
Half a large bunch of cilantro (about 1 cup packed)
1/2 cup pepitas
2 cloves garlic
Juice of 1/2 lime (about 2 tablespoons)
Extra-virgin olive oil, as needed
Salt and pepper, as needed
1/3 cup panko (optional)
8 ounces smoked salmon
1. Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Gather all ingredients before starting to boil the pasta. Cook the pasta according to the package directions.
2. Meanwhile, roughly chop the cilantro and place in the bowl of a food processor with the pepitas, garlic, and lime juice. Purée, scraping the sides as needed, until well blended. With the motor running, drizzle in about 1/4 cup olive oil. Stop the motor, scrape the sides, and taste. Correct the seasoning as needed with salt, pepper, extra lime juice, and olive oil. Set aside.
3. Optional step: mix the panko with 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil in a small pan, and sprinkle with a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Toss over medium-high heat until well-browned and crisp, 2 to 4 minutes. Set aside.
4. Cut the salmon into thin strips. Set aside.
5. When the pasta is cooked, reserve 1/4 cup pasta water, and drain. Return to the pot, and toss with the pesto. Thin with some of the reserved pasta water if needed to help coat the pasta. Mix in half the salmon.
6. Serve hot, garnished with the remaining salmon and the breadcrumbs divided evenly among the plates.
I don’t typically travel a heck of a lot. Most of the time, you’ll find me within a five-mile radius of my kitchen.
But tomorrow (Thursday), I’m jetting off to my hometown, New Orleans. First I’ll be attending the International Food Blogger Conference (and if you’re going too, I’d love to meet up with you!). After that, I’ll be helping my family through one surgery (which I’m trying to not worry about obsessively). I’m going away for eleven days, which isn’t very long, but it’s long enough that I couldn’t leave my sweetheart behind without some home-cooked food.
I have dug my own grave on this one, and absolutely crippled my boyfriend in the kitchen. Not that he can’t or won’t cook, it’s just that… well, we have an unspoken understanding that dinner is probably going to be better if, you know, the professional chef cooks it. He does help.
Also, I was only slightly afraid that he might subsist purely on cereal and take-out for eleven days if I hadn’t made a little something nutritious to tuck in the fridge.
Okay, fine. If I’m honest, this was all a fine excuse for a blog post.
Drawing inspiration from my latest favorite cookbook and chef, Plenty, by Yotam Ottolenghi, I made for him two grain-based and vegetable-heavy salads, one with carrots, quinoa, lime, and cilantro, the other with quinoa, red rice, pistachios, and dried apricots. These two dishes are exactly the kind of thing I could eat quite happily for the rest of my life, day in, day out.
The one word that comes to mind when I think about Chef Ottolenghi’s food is “generosity”. Often, there isn’t just one type of grain, but two. Or, occasionally, more. (Shock! Eyes widen!) Flavors aren’t delicate or precious, but bold and effluent. Herbs, in particular, are used with a hand so heavy it borders on leaden. It just feels downright generous to pile mounds of herbs onto big heaps of vegetables and grains, and mix it all up in your largest bowl, using your entire arm to stir.
This is the sort of thing that’s been heavily influencing my cooking of late. In-season vegetables, fresh herbs, whole grains, unrestrained flavors, always a hit of citrus. This is also the sort of thing that is ridiculously good for you, which is great, because I could eat buckets of it.
I hope to see you at IFBC, but if I don’t, maybe one of these salads will make your weekend a little more generous. Even if you just make it for your blog.
Carrot and Quinoa Salad with Almonds, Lime, and Cilantro Inspired by Richard Blais, via Food & Wine Magazine Makes 6 to 8 servings
I neglected to note how many pounds of carrots I used, but I know there were 10 of them, and they were on the smaller side. If you love carrots, use more. If you don’t, use less. Either way, use your judgement.
3/4 cup whole almonds, toasted
1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus additional as needed
10 medium-sized carrots
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus additional as needed
1 tablespoon minced or grated fresh ginger
1 clove garlic, minced or grated
Pinch of cinnamon
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon Sriracha, or to taste
1 bunch cilantro (yes, a whole bunch), chopped
1 can water chestnuts, drained and chopped
1 tablespoon furikake (optional; see this post for a recipe), or black sesame seeds
Salt and black pepper to taste
1. To toast almonds, heat oven to 350º F. Spread in an even layer on a sheet pan, and bake for 7 to 10 minutes, or until fragrant. Chop roughly while still warm, and set aside.
2. Meanwhile, rinse the quinoa in a fine mesh sieve until the water runs clear, swirling with fingers to help agitate the grains. (This rinses off a natural coating that, when cooked, tastes bitter.) Let drain a bit.
3. Place the quinoa in a medium saucepan, over medium-high heat. Stirring constantly to prevent burning, toast the quinoa until fragrant, and grains dry and separate, about 3 minutes. You should not hear any sizzling when the water has fully evaporated. Add the water and salt, and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 12 minutes. Remove from heat. Place a clean towel between pan and lid (to help absorb excess moisture), and let stand 5 to 10 minutes before fluffing with a fork.
3. While quinoa cooks, prepare the carrots. Peel, halve lengthwise, and chop into roughly 1 inch lengths (on a bias if you want to be fancy). Mince or grate the ginger and garlic.
4. In a large skillet with a lid, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the carrots, ginger, garlic, cinnamon, and a pinch of salt. Toss to combine, and cook until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Do not brown. Add the chicken stock, and cover the pan. Cook until the carrots are just tender, 3 to 5 more minutes. Remove the lid, and let any remaining liquid reduce until thick. Remove from the heat. Stir in the butter and Sriracha. Let cool briefly.
5. Zest and juice the lime into a large bowl. Add the carrots, and toss. Mix in the cooked quinoa, toasted almonds, cilantro, water chestnuts, and furikake (if using). Taste, and adjust seasoning as needed with salt, black pepper, and olive oil. Serve warm, at room temperature, or cold.
Red Rice and Quinoa Salad with Orange and Pistachio Yotam Ottolenghi
Makes 6 servings
Recipe can be found here. I changed (practically) nothing, aside from wilting the arugula slightly so it would keep longer, and mixing it in. Don’t be hesitant to use two grains in one salad; the variance in texture is delightful, and it’s scarcely any more trouble.
Also, I took some pictures of the ingredients, and I’m darn well going to use them.