The vegetable we rarely savour the flavour of. Plus, a recipe for a Sri Lankan-inspired Carrot Salad.
Welcome to ingredient, where once a month I take a deep dive into some of my favourite seasonal and store cupboard ingredients. This month I’m focusing on carrots: we’ve all got them in the fridge, but how often do we use them to make something where carrot is king rather than simply using them as the base for something else?
Additionally, at the bottom of this post you’ll find my recipe for a Sri Lankan-inspired Carrot Salad where I take a delicious carrot sambol recipe I tried last week and turn it into a textured salad with a few little retro finishes.
If you’re a paid subscriber, in all honesty I’m deep in the experimental phase still (after I’ve hit publish on this I’m off to play around with a carrot shrub) but I promise you I won’t post either of your other two carrot recipes this month until they’re absolutely perfect!
To receive these recipes, plus access all of the recipes from past newsletters as well as my Kitchen Cupboards interviews, you can upgrade your subscription here. And, if you fancy exploring the archives for more inspiration, last October we were focused on one of my all time pantry hero ingredients, Pomegranate Molasses:
Originally from Central Asia, the carrot we all know and love today was selectively bred from wild carrots first for their leaves and seeds, rather than their root. Reaching back to an instalment of my 17th century Dutch art class at UCLA which inexplicably focused on the topic (this was the same professor who also presented us each with a single tulip as we entered our final exam, which makes me think we were talking about carrots as part of a general discussion as Holland as a trading hub) we know that carrots in Europe were originally purple, like many heirloom varieties we see today, but also that the Dutch bred this out to create the orange carrots we know today, probably with the help of some of the red varieties that were emerging elsewhere at the time.
Carrots, at least here in a part of the West dominated by French and Italian cooking traditions are a kitchen workhorse. Yes they can appear in dishes like soups, glazed side dishes and salads in their own right, but most likely you’re to encounter a carrot in a recipe as part of a stew or a casserole, or taking one of the starring roles in a soffrito, providing a backbone to a dish where none of their pure, unadulterated flavour will remain.
They’re also one of the most common vegetables to appear raw, but not just in the aforementioned salad. You should not underestimate the carrot in baton form as the healthy dipping object of choice that is far superior served with a tub of smoked hummus than a celery stick, or even by itself, as a snack. But I mean a freshly peeled and cut one, not one of those inexplicably both watery, and dried out carrot sticks that come pre-packed in plastic.
For reasons that now allude me as an adult as I sat watching cartoons with my little plastic chair sat as close to the screen as possible as a rather small child if the Flintstones came on, my mother had to supply me with a batoned carrot to snack on during the show as quickly as possible, preferably before the opening credits had finished rolling. (Yabba-dabba-doo! Flintstones, meet the Flintstones, they’re a modern Stone Age familllllly…) If any of you can figure out what carrots had to do with daily life in the town of Bedrock, please do let me know.
Carrots are on of those items in my kitchen - like brown onions and bags of plain flour - that get added to the shopping list the moment they start to run low lest I run out. But they’re something I usually order two different types of.
Yes you’ve got those big, cheap bags of regular carrots perfect for chopping up small and using in the aforementioned soffritto or mirepoix1 , but in my head I call those cooking carrots. Eating carrots - usually making an appearance in batons alongside our Sunday roasts but appearing anywhere where the flavour of carrot is prominent - are a whole different ball game.
I’ve been growing my own carrots for a few years - as my soil is not the best they’re never even or straight - but have you ever tasted a carrot pulled straight from the ground, simply washed and only peeled if it is one of the bigger, fatter varieties with a hardier exterior? It’s like the flavour of a supermarket carrot as a concentrate, something I can only describe as ‘more carroty’ than it’s mass-produced cousin (fat lot of good as a food writer I am!) When we’ve eaten all of mine (I usually plant Harlequin Mix F1 by the way, and they never disappoint) I take care to order a bunch of Wholegood’s organic heirloom varieties from Ocado2, or even better, buy a bunch with the tops still attached from a farmers market or farm shop I trust.
Speaking of those carrot tops, whilst I usually buy carrots with them still attached as an indication of freshness and compost the tops, in the past I’ve made a rather good, rather smooth, and rather grassy pesto (I can’t remember which recipe I used but this one looks good), and researching this piece I’ve also stumbled upon recipes for a carrot top chimichurri and one for sautéed carrot greens which has particularly peeked my interest.
Before we move onto this month’s first carrot recipe - which goes a bit retro enjoying the humble carrot in salad form - I want to note that this is not the first time I’ve featured a carrot salad here on ingredient because, personally I think they’re rather good; and because I was particularly pleased with this one and I think everyone should be able to try it I’ve lifted the paywall on December 2021’s Grated Carrot Salad with Cinnamon, Coriander and Pistachios. It’s fresh, light, and has a lovely warming note from that month’s ingredient of cinnamon which I think makes it the perfect autumn / winter salad. And, because way back when I started off publishing all of ingredient’s three monthly recipes behind a paywall you’ll also now have access to my recipes for my Beef Meatballs in Tomato & Cinnamon Sauce, and a beautiful Caramelised Onion & Cinnamon Rice recipe that came to me first by watching my British Pakistani best friend make it - who learnt it watching her mother make it - and then by tasting her mother’s giant, celebratory pan of it she made for her baby shower. It’s very simple, and a little bit special.
This month’s carrot salad started life as the Carrot Sambol in Hoppers: The Cookbook. Filled with recipes from the titular restaurant where J and I shared a fantastic, impromptu feast after the theatre in London one evening last year cooking my way through the book has led to something of a love affair with Sri Lankan flavours in my kitchen downtime when I’m not cooking for work, but cooking for pleasure.
About sambol, the book explains:
Sambols… sit somewhere in between a relish and a salad. I’ve always struggled to define this delightful genre of dishes in a single line when training the team or explaining them to a guest for the first time. Sambols are the Sri Lankan version of the Indonesian ‘sambal’ (hence the similar name) and are generally pounded raw ingredients, usually involving chilli, and served like a condiment or relish… In essence, they are beautiful bright additions to the table and often so much more than the sum of their parts.
And whilst I utterly demolished their recipe for Carrot Sambol (if you own the book find it on pg 163) alongside a chicken curry I found in Rick Stein’s Far Eastern Odyssey (also a great resource for cooking Sri Lankan food at home) which I’ve been playing around with a bit (and a mountain of the Sri Lankan Yellow Rice we both adore) I wanted the flavours of fresh coconut, pungent shallot, warming black pepper, savoury bonito flakes (which I’d added as an internet-approved substitute for Maldive fish flakes) zesty lime and verdant coriander that had come together in my mortar and pestle to have more texture, and to be a lot, lot bolder. It was excellent, but I wanted it to be able to hold it’s own as the star of the show, rather than to play second fiddle to everything else on the plate.
The addition of dried fruit and nuts is my own retro flourish: if you’ve made the aforementioned yellow rice recipe you’ll know they form 50% of the garnish alongside fried red onion slithers and sizzled curry leaves. Don’t skimp on also frying the cashews in oil for this recipe: they don’t taste quite the same if you don’t.
Sri Lankan-inspired Carrot Salad
Serves: 4 as a side, Preparation time: 20 minutes, Cooking time: 5 minutes
Serve this salad as part of a Sri Lankan-inspired meal, or simply alongside anything else from the Asian-diaspora. I know several Indian curries that would benefit from it served alongside. You can also just serve it for lunch, or as we head into the season for it, alongside the sort of cold cuts that appear as festive leftovers.
As I ran through the rough ingredient list above, you would have spied two ingredients that you might not find in your average supermarket. If you’re used to working with fresh coconut, great. Just sub the grated amount of fresh for what I’ve listed below, but I usually buy it in a frozen grated block to break off chunks and defrost and needed; it only takes about half an hour to thaw. Asian supermarkets will stock these, though do look in the ethnic food section in the freezer aisle of some of the bigger supermarkets: I buy mine in Sainsbury’s. As for the Japanese bonito flakes, again Asian supermarkets are your friend here, or else they’re very simple to locate online.
250g carrots (about 4 medium ones)
30g frozen grated coconut, thawed (see above)
handful fresh coriander, roughly chopped
10g desiccated coconut
small handful sultanas
1 tsp light oil
handful raw cashews
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
1 tbsp bonito flakes
1/2 tsp flaky sea salt, plus extra to taste
1/2 banana shallot, chopped
1 small green Thai chilli, deseeded and chopped
juice of 1 lime
1/2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Grate the carrot on the largest hole of your box grater into a large bowl. Add the fresh coconut, coriander and sultanas, and set aside.
In a small, dry frying pan over a medium heat, gently toast the desiccated coconut until a light gold. Add to the carrot mixture.
Wipe out the pan and turn the heat up to medium high. Add the 1 tsp light oil and once it is shimmering, add the cashews. Fry for a few minutes, stirring often, until they’re just starting to catch. Remove from the heat and the moment they’re cool enough to touch, roughly chop them and add them to the bowl.
For the dressing using a mortar and pestle crush the peppercorns. Add the bonito flakes and sea salt and crush again until you have a powder.
Add the shallot, chilli, and lime juice and crush until you have a paste. Stir in the olive oil.
Stir the paste into the carrot salad. Leave to sit for 5 minutes before adding more salt if it needs it and serving.
The French word for soffritto, usually cooked in butter. At least in Northern France, anyway.
The UK’s only online only supermarket.