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.
Man, who doesn’t like a big ol’ bowl of roasted Brussels sprouts?
If you don’t, I suspect you haven’t had them prepared correctly. And while it’s tempting to treat Brussels sprouts like any other vegetable when roasting, the usual “toss ’em in olive oil, add salt and pepper, roast at 400º F” business doesn’t really work as well as it should.
Too often, the little guys are burnt black on the outside while the insides are still crunchy and nearly raw. And of course, Cook’s Illustrated has a simple solution to that problem: roast them covered, with a tiny splash of water, so they steam a little before getting uncovered and roasted until nicely browned.
Tell you what, I love me some Brussels sprouts, and this is the best method I’ve ever used for roasting them.
But plain roasted Brussels sprouts — lovely as they are — can be a little boring. I get bored easily. Besides, I have a fridge to clean out.
So I tossed my sprouts with some bacon, pecans, preserved lemon, scallions, and some phenomenal hot sauce that came with a recent order of Ethiopian take-out. (I have no idea what it is, but I’m tempted to order from that place again just for the hot sauce.)
I was going to grate some pecorino romano over everything, but that would’ve meant washing the Microplane later. That was one step too far. Next time, maybe. It didn’t need it.
This is one of those dishes that’s greater than the sum of its parts. The ingredients all sound good together on paper, but on the plate, it’s like daaaaang.
Brussels Sprouts with Bacon, Pecans, and Preserved Lemon
Yield: 2 servings
Adapted in part from Cook's Illustrated.
This dish is equally viable as a side or an entrée (served over quinoa or other starch of choice), and is awfully satisfying. Even better: it all comes together in the time it takes to heat the oven and roast the Brussels sprouts.
I happen to have an aging jar of preserved lemon in my fridge, which I love using with most any roasted vegetable. If you don't have such a jar, do not fear. It will be just as good without.
6 to 8 ounces Brussels sprouts, ends trimmed
A drizzle of olive oil, about 1 tablespoon
1/3 cup pecans, toasted and chopped
2 slices thick-cut bacon
4 scallions, sliced thinly
1 tablespoon preserved lemon (optional, but lovely), chopped finely
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon hot sauce of choice, or to taste
Cooked quinoa, rice, couscous, or short pasta, to serve (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 500º F, and place a rack in the upper-middle position. (This is a perfect time to toast the pecans, while the oven heats. They'll need about 5-10 minutes in the warming oven. And if you need to make some quinoa or couscous or what-have-you, now's the time to start it.)
2. Slice the Brussels sprouts in half lengthwise (or into quarters if they're large). Toss on a rimmed baking sheet with a light drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkle of salt and black pepper, and 1 tablespoon water. Arrange the sprouts cut-side down, and cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil.
3. Roast for 10 minutes. Remove the aluminum foil, and continue roasting for 8 to 12 minutes more, or until knife-tender and browned.
4. Meanwhile, cook the bacon in a pan over medium heat until browned and crisp. Remove the bacon from the pan, chop, and set aside. Save the rendered fat, because it is delicious and it makes the best fried eggs.
5. In a large bowl, combine the pecans, scallions, preserved lemon, lemon juice, and hot sauce. Mix in the bacon, and a spoonful of bacon fat; set aside.
6. When the Brussels sprouts are done, toss them while still hot with the bacon and other ingredients in the bowl. Serve immediately as a side, or over quinoa (or what-have-you) as an entrée.
Want to cook some quinoa, but don't know how? It's your lucky day.
1 part quinoa (1/2 cup is more than enough for 2 servings)
2 parts water
Bay leaf (optional)
1. Rinse the quinoa in a fine mesh sieve. Yes, you really should do this.
2. Put rinsed quinoa in a pan over medium heat. Toast and stir frequently until you don't hear any more sizzling-type noises (this means the quinoa is dry and getting toasted).
3. Add the water slowly, because those quinoa like to jump when the water hits 'em, and they're a pain to clean off your stove later.
4. Add salt (1 scant teaspoon per cup of quinoa) and bay leaf, and bring to a boil.
5. Cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 12-15 minutes, or until all water is absorbed.
6. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, at least 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork before serving. Quinoa!
Dinner the other night: Tuscan kale, sautéed with a boatload of garlic, red pepper flakes, and minced preserved Meyer lemon. I tossed in some ultra-concentrated smoked turkey stock (see these headnotes for more info) to help it wilt down. All topped with a tiny mountain of Parmesan. I cannot get enough kale lately.
There were probably some other ingredients too. And it’s hard to see, but it was served over black quinoa.
Olive oil is there for the bread, of course. It ain’t dinner without bread.
Last night’s dinner: maki filled with Gulf shrimp, avocado, water chestnut, green onion, and Serrano pepper. Because, you know, Wednesday.
Also, did you know you can make sushi with quinoa instead of rice? Cook some quinoa, purée half, mix it all together, and voilà!, sticky quinoa. Thanks, Heston Blumenthal! I used a combo of red and white quinoa, and left it unseasoned. Fabulous.
This post is also a little experiment; I started using Dropbox, which makes it way easier to post photos from my phone. The top picture is from my phone, the bottom two are from my proper camera. That is all.
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.