It’s that time of year when my refrigerator bin is constantly full of carrots, but this winter I’m one step ahead. It’s not that I’ve embraced snack times full of carrot sticks – although they are an excellent vehicle for cream cheese when the bagels are stale. Nope, it’s that I’ve teased out what I like about carrots and then upped the ante.
Characteristics of fresh carrots include: crunch, sweetness, juiciness. Of course soft cooked carrots are an option but unless they’re a small part of a larger dish, I generlly steer clear. I’m a fan of the crunch and the juiciness but the sweet, the sweet can be overwhelming. Previously I’ve balanced it out with vinegar, and that’s certainly not a bad choice but I went for something slightly less intense this time and made it into a salad, dressed French-style with a lemon and oil dressing. To keep things interesting I added some caraway. The seeds are from the same botanical family as carrots, something I learned from consulting the Flavor Bible (no I don’t get a kickback from the link; I just love that book). It’s my go-to resource for adding just one more complementary flavor to a dish when I’m unsure what it needs.
The one thing this salad doesn’t have is lettuce or greens of any kind. Green salads are lovely in a restaurant or when you are having a dinner party and have time to throw one together as guests arrive. But a lot of my cooking is done on weekends or evenings when it will be a long time until that dish reaches the table. A green salad will wilt and get slimy if left to sit in the fridge. So in general I try to opt for other kinds of salad when making them at home. Even better are the salads that really benefit from a long soak in their dressing. That way when it’s time to put together dinner or pack a lunch, I know there’s at least one thing that needs nothing more than a fork. Is it wrong to be excited about carrots? Well then, I’m not sorry.
Caraway Carrot Salad
Serves two if it’s your only side dish or four if you have a couple of dishes available
5 carrots, peeled and tops removed
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 to 1 tsp hot sauce (optional, but I really love the hot/sweet/sour combination)
1-2 tbs good quality olive oil
2 tbs caraway seeds
The majority of the work in this recipe is cutting the carrots and that’s mostly because I’m picky about it. I find that grating the carrot results in mush so I spend a good 15 minutes cutting 4-inch long matchsticks out of my carrots. I cut the carrots in half, cut slices on my mandoline, and then stack 2-4 slices at a time and cut them into matchsticks. In my mind the extra work is worth it but you could certainly grate them if you don’t have time/incentive to spend chopping.
Once the carrots are cut to your liking, dress them with the lemon juice, salt, hot sauce (if using), and oil. Lightly bruise the caraway seeds either with a mortar and pestle or by sprinkling them on a cutting board and gives them a few rolls with a rolling pin. Then add the seeds to everything else and give it a good stir to get everything mixed together. Let the salad sit out at room temperature for at least 20 minutes before serving or store it in the fridge for up to a week. The longer is sits the more the flavors come together. If you don’t wait long enough some bites will have too much or too little dressing so don’t skimp on the mingling time. You can always make it ahead – no guests need to know you weren’t working right up until they rang the bell.