Carrots almost never play a leading role in my recipes. That’s not to say I don’t cook with them. Of course I always have a bag of the organic variety in my produce drawer because they are integral in the foundation of soups, stocks and sauces. They are also likely to be eaten raw with hummus in my house, but I almost never look to them for inspiration when I want to cook up something creative.
So when my Mother in-law suggested I bring a carrot dish to Christmas Eve dinner I let out a long, silent yawn. The image conjured up was not an appetizing one as I pictured over-boiled orange discs lying lifelessly on the dinner table. So I did what I usually do when I am trying to find inspiration, I mulled it over for awhile. When nothing surfaced after a few days, I thought some more. Finally, I turned to someone who I knew could put an interesting twist on an ordinary vegetable: Jamie Oliver.
His book Jamie at Home is one of my favorite sources for inspired farm-to-table recipes. And his Roast Carrot and Avocado Salad with Orange and Lemon Dressing is the perfect example of how he elevates everyday ingredients in truly original ways. It is no surprise that in this case the roasting sweetens and caramelizes the carrots, concentrating their flavor. But the boost of spices, herbs and citrus also help turn the volume up on this winter vegetable staple. Cumin and orange are natural compliments to carrot and form the basis of many a Moroccan salad, but in this salad that is just the beginning of the story. Avocado and sour cream lend creaminess to balance out the acidity, and handfuls of winter greens round out the body of the salad. Not one to forget about texture, Oliver also throws in rough chards of toasted bread along with a smattering of poppy and sesame seeds. Oh, and did I mention the undercurrent of hot chile? While it may seem like too many avenues of flavor to follow, they all miraculously merge in a happy place on your tongue. What’s more, it challenges you to never underestimate carrots again.
Plated on a long serving piece, this impressive salad has layers to dig through and none should be missed in each biteful. If you have yet to find a hearty winter salad worth its salt, give this one a go. It has enough depth, richness and pep to pull you through the coldest day of the year.
Roast Carrot and Avocado Salad with Orange and Lemon Dressing
(recipe courtesy of Jaime at Home by Jamie Oliver)
Recipe Notes: I added an additional orange and lemon to my version because I found I needed more juice for the vinaigrette. I also substituted some apple cider vinegar for part of the red wine vinegar and used greek yogurt instead of sour cream. Citrus flavored olive oil works really well as a final garnish drizzled on top of the plated salad.
1 lb medium carrots, tops trimmed, and halved lengthwise
2 tsp whole cumin seed
1 small dried chile, crumbled
salt and freshly cracked pepper
2 cloves garlic, peeled
4 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves picked
extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp red wine vinegar
1 orange, halved
1 lemon, halved
3 ripe avocados
4 X ½ thick slices of ciabatta or other good quality bread, lightly toasted
2 handfuls of interesting mixed winter greens (like arugula, radicchio or kale)
2 bunches of watercress
2/3 C sour cream, thinned with a little water to a thick sauce consistency
4 Tbsp mixed seeds, toasted
Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Steam the carrots for 5 minutes so that they are still firm with just the slightest tenderness. You do not want to fully cook them at this point. Pat them dry then lay them across a sheet pan fitted with parchment paper. Place the citrus flesh side down on the same pan. Drizzle enough olive oil over top of the pan to lightly coat everything. Roast for about 20 minutes or until the carrot begin to caramelize. Add the cumin seeds, chile, thyme and garlic to the pan then continue to roast for another 5 minutes. Season the carrots with salt and pepper.
Squeeze the citrus juice into a small bowl and add the red wine vinegar. Add enough olive oil so that you have a ratio of 1 part acid (citrus juice + vinegar) to 2 parts oil. Whisk to combine and season with salt and pepper. Toss the greens along with the toasted bread in enough of this vinaigrette so that they are lightly coated. Lay the roasted carrots along the bottom of a rectangular serving platter. Peel and pit the avocados, then slice thickly and lay the pieces on top of the carrots. Drizzle any remaining vinaigrette on top of the avocados then pile the greens and bread over top. Sprinkle the seeds over everything then drizzle on some of the sour cream.