Monday, January 28, 2013

The One I've Waited For

I've got an idea.  How about something completely normal after all my carrying on about emotional challenges and life management?  How about a carrot salad?

For years, in a latent kind of way, I've wished for a good one.  Carrots themselves are cheap, abundant, and nutritious, all good reasons to eat more of them.  They are also sturdy enough to stand up to lounging in dressing with structural integrity intact, which is important since we love leftovers and find them quite handy.

Unfortunately, the ones I'd tried were not thrilling.  Some were snappy enough for me but too vinegary for Dave.  Some were flavored unacceptably. Some required that the carrots be cooked first, which was tedious.  Some were composed of shapes that were too large to eat comfortably or stayed too crunchy when raw. I'm sure someone somewhere thought they were good, and we ate them, but not with repeated enthusiasm. Decently edible is not the same as so-good-that-I-could-eat-it-for-days-in-a-row-and-not-tire-of-it, which I didn't think I was requiring until I found it.

I chanced upon my new favorite by happenstance one guys' gaming night when Dave ordered pizza, and I felt the need for a vegetable, preferably of the acidically dressed, crisp variety to balance the fluff and goo of the pizza. I took another go at carrot salad to find the balance I was seeking.

Well, balance in the dressing is one of the things I love about this salad.  No vinegary pucker here, just a mellow zip that doesn't wear out its welcome or leave my lips tingling.  The mustard and honey in the dressing round out the oil and vinegar into a moderate kick that keeps pleasing for days. The original recipe may say to eat the salad soon after its made, but I have eaten it five or so days later (I lost count) and suffered not from quality decline.  Amazing and welcome, perfect for the workday lunch box.

I suppose this was destined to be the carrot salad of my dreams: It's modeled on a French classic, carrottes rappees, and shared by Dorie Greenspan who lives over there. (Those French are so suave and so my weakness.) Her version brings back memories of the first vinaigrette salads I ever ate and loved during my first visits to the continent. They were as strikingly simple as a couture dress and a revelation to me then, after a childhood at table with iceberg lettuce and gloppy ranch or my dad's preferred "French" dressing.

Ms. Greenspan listed some ingredients as optional, namely chopped nuts, chopped parsley, and raisins.  With the crucial dressing being perhaps, I will risk saying, perfect, they could indeed be happily omitted.  But I've used them all, and all are wonderful. The parsley livens up the color as well as the flavor. The nuts add crunch, protein (carrots are nutritious but starchy), and flavor kapow if toasted, which is never a bad option, surely.  The raisins contribute sweetness and a chewy texture, although I do leave them out now that I know keeping it around for days is possible, as they are the one ingredient that looks a little sad after marinating.

We ordered pizza Saturday night.  If I hadn't been consumed by another cleaning attack on my range (It's still January!), I would have made this salad again--and I had just eaten the last serving of the previous batch two days before!

Being lazy---I mean the soul of efficiency--I streamlined the original recipe to suit me.  If you need more detail, follow the link to the source.  Either way, happy eating!

Grated Carrot Salad
adapted from Dorie Greenspan
Serves 4 or more

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup canola, grapeseed, or other neutral oil
1 pound carrots, peeled, trimmed, and grated
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped, optional
Parsley, chopped, optional
Raisins or currants, optional

In a medium bowl, whisk together the mustard, honey, vinegar, and oil.  Add the grated carrots and the nuts, parsley, and raisins, if using.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Serve at room temperature or chilled.  Store leftovers in the refrigerator, covered. 

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