My mother recently said to me that she isn’t the least bit surprised that cooking is such a big part of my life. She said she could see it when I was a wee little thing getting overly excited to go to the market, or picking berries, or foraging for mushrooms. She recalled that she didn’t know any kids my age who would have rather been digging in the garden for vegetables than playing with other kids. I have a hazy recollection of accompanying my grandmother to the market where I could walk among farmers and booths and be seduced by all the smells and sights. My favorite find was a stand with the red currants in hand-made newspaper cones. So much for playing with dolls and a game of tag. My heart belong to fruit and vegetables, and summer reigned as king of all seasons in my six-year-old brain.
When I was even younger, I once ate so many carrots that I turned slightly orange. I remember looking at my palms thinking I should do the same with blueberries (unfortunately it didn’t work!). Mom likes to remember how the first thing I’d eat in chicken soup were pieces of cooked carrot, and how excited I would get to eat a fresh carrot from the farmers market, freshly dug up and cleaned. Growing up, a carrot was my favorite go-to snack, and my grandmother would hand-press for me carrot juice – a very special treat. It’s no wonder that my father used to affectionately refer to me as “rabbit”. I am, unabashedly, a fan of this humble root vegetable, and it is amazing to me that something that grows underground, sees no sunlight, and turns into something so lovely and festive-looking. You know well by now that I have quite a soft-spot for root vegetables in general. They’re totally under-appreciated and I’m on a mission to give them some love. When you pull a turnip or a carrot out of the ground, you get a rather dirty and downright unattractive vegetable, it is what’s hiding underneath, however, that is truly glorious and delicious. If you’ve never pulled out a carrot from the ground, washed it and eaten it right away, you really should – it’s quite an experience. And it’ll be the best-tasting carrot you’ve ever eaten!
There’s been some carrot salad love shown lately when Deb of Smitten Kitchen posted a salad that made me want to get up from my office chair and immediately go home to make it. Luisa also waxed poetic about it, and I was all, “What’s taking me so long!” And then, right as I was about to make it, finally, I came upon this recipe and decided that since Deb’s salad deserved an honorable mention all its own, I wanted to give a bit of a spotlight to this one. There’s cumin, paprika and cayenne pepper in it. There’s cilantro, which I cannot resist (but those who loathe it can always sub in mint!). And because there are chickpeas and almonds in here, you have a meal in and of itself if you so desire. Or a side-dish, as I served it (though I managed to have the leftovers for breakfast (I know, right?) the very next morning.) Which brings me to a question, is it some kind of a grammar violation to have parenthesis inside a parenthesis?
This salad here packs some serious heat, so if you’re sensitive to it, dial down the cayenne, m’kay? Because I don’t want some of you to burn the roof of your mouth and then tell me I didn’t warn you! This is spicy, but I love my spice, so I kept the proportions the same. Also, this salad is very considerate of your time, which means this is a rather well-brought-up salad, if you ask me. If you have a picnic to attend, you can make this (even the day before) ahead of time and chill it, needing only to remember to bring this along. Translation: you should have as many picnics as this season allows, as you will miss them in the winter when you’re wearing fleece head to toe and eating tomato soup. This salad with its lemon and cilantro got this fantastic summer vibe to it, and is bound to please everyone, including your gluten-free, vegan, or low-carb friends. With a salad like this, I know that your next trip to the farmers market might be packed with as much excitement as mine are to this day. Who knew that something that has the word “salad” in it could be so exciting?
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup slivered almonds
2 packed cups cilantro leaves and stems
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Two 15-ounce cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 pound carrots, peeled and coarsely shredded
1. In a food processor, add together the lemon juice and the minced garlic. Allow to stand for 15 minutes for the flavors to infuse. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat the vegetable oil, and add the almonds. Toast over moderate heat, stirring to prevent them from burning, until golden, about 5 minutes. Use your nose here, if the nuts begin to smell like they might be done – trust your instinct. Drain the toasted almonds on paper towels and let cool to room temperature. [Can be done ahead.]
2. Take half of your toasted almonds and transfer half to the food processor. Add to this the cilantro, cumin, smoked paprika and cayenne pepper and pulse until finely chopped.
3. Add the olive oil and process to a chunky paste. Transfer to a large bowl. Add the chickpeas and carrots and toss together to combine. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Garnish with the remaining almonds and serve.
The salad can be made ahead and refrigerated overnight. Garnish with the toasted almonds just before serving.