Monday, April 21, 2014

Roasted Carrot and Avocado Salad

Every now and then people express concern at the prospect of cooking for a food writer, as though our standards and expectations exceed the home cooking realm. And I think oh, if only they could see what I eat. I mean sure, I eat well. But it's often ridiculously simple. An omelet with garlic bread. A container of vegetable soup thawed from the freezer. A pound of roasted Brussels sprouts and a dish of pudding. This is not the stuff of Instagram dreams and restaurant menus. This is the stuff of humbly delicious daily life.

And it's good stuff. There can be truly something transformative about a bowl of vegetable soup, even mushy from the freezer. But every now and then, you make something that is just on another plane entirely. Something that employs a few cheffy tricks and techniques, that takes some time and fussing but just elevates the ingredients to a different level entirely.  Like this carrot salad.

I have long been a fan of salads with roasted carrots, and recently served a Moroccan version to a dinner party of 18 people. But this carrot salad — oh, this is something else entirely. The carrots are left dramatically whole, par-boiled and then rolled in a garlicky spice paste, and roasted under a few chunks of citrus. Then the sweetly caramelized roasted lemon and orange are juiced, and that juice gets mixed with a sharper shot of fresh citrus, for a truly transformative dressing. Then come buttery chunks of avocado, tangy sour cream (or, if you're me with leftovers, Middle Eastern lebneh), and a surprising crunchy sprinkle of seeds.

The end result is rich and buttery and sharp and vegetal and creamy and crunchy all at once. It's truly extraordinary. And yes, I still appreciate my sloppy soups and mashed potatoes for dinner. But once in a while, it's nice to really bring it, to show what a dish can be. And to keep all the civilians on their toes.

Roasted Carrot and Avocado Salad

adapted from ABC Kitchen, as posted on Daily Candy and further adapted by Sassy Radish
serves 4

For the Crunchy Seeds:
¼ cup sunflower seeds
¼ cup raw pumpkin seeds
¼ cup white sesame seeds

For the Salad:
1 pound medium carrots, peeled
1 teaspoons cumin seeds (toasted if you like)
3 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
¼ teaspoon chile flakes
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 oranges, halved
2 lemons, halved
1 avocado, halved, pitted, peeled and cut into thin wedges
¼ cup sour cream or lebneh/Greek-style yogurt
3 cups micro greens or sprouts (I used about 1/3 cup of flowering tips and delicate herbs from a local salad mix)

Toast the seeds: Preheat the oven to 350° Fahrenheit, and spread the seeds on a baking sheet. Toast, stirring occasionally, until lightly toasted and starting to color, but not golden brown (~5-7 minutes). Set aside to cool, leaving the oven on.

While you're toasting the seeds, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the carrots and simmer until a knife pierces them easily, about 15 minutes. Drain and transfer to a roasting pan.

In a mortar and pestle or food processor, pound together the cumin seeds, garlic, thyme, chili flakes, 1 1/2 teaspoons of the salt, and pepper. Pound until crushed and pasty, then add the vinegar and 1/4 cup of the olive oil, mixing to combine. Pour over the carrots, and shake them around until they're well-coated.

Place 2 of the orange halves and two of the lemon halves on top of the carrots, cut side down. Roast until the carrots are golden brown, ~25 minutes.

When cool enough to handle, squeeze the roasted orange and lemon juice out, and squeeze the juice from the fresh citrus. Measure out 1/4 cup of this mixture (I drank the rest), mix in the remaining two tablespoons olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste.

Arrange the roasted carrots on four plates, and drizzle with a bit of dressing. Divide the avocado and sprouts on top, add more dressing, then top with a dollop of sour cream and sprinkle with the seeds. Serve.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Shaved Coconut Macaroons

There's a certain comfort that comes from the cyclical rhythms of life. Of doing the same things that you've done in years past, the same thing your parents and grandparents have done. Which, in April, means scrubbing out the dust in a fit of spring cleaning. And baking macaroons.

I've long been a fan of this version, but was seeking a little variety. And I was smitten with these shaved coconut beauties as soon as I saw them. Pretty little piles, all golden and toasty and perfect. These shaved coconut macaroons follow a similar format to the others, soaking up a cooked-in goo of egg whites and sugar, then baking up into golden crisp edges and sweet chewy insides. Admittedly, these are a bit more toothsome than the shredded version. But sometimes it's nice to have a cookie with a bit of chew. And it seems a fair price for all that pretty.

And if you want to move on to Passover appetizers (now that we've taken care of dessert), you can find my rundown of options over at NPR's Kitchen Window — if I may recommend, the deviled eggs with horseradish-orange gremolata are a particularly delicious option. Happy Passover! Happy Spring!

Shaved Coconut Macaroons

adapted from Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies by Alice Medrich
yeilds ~26 cookies, depending on how you size them

The first day, these cookies have crisp edges and tender insides, but gradually become more tender throughout. If you're making them any time in advance, I recommend freezing them to preserve the texture.

4 large egg whites
3 1/2 cups unsweetened dried flaked (not shredded) coconut
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
hefty pinch salt

Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Combine all of the ingredients in a large metal mixing bowl. Set the bowl over a pot of barely simmering water, and stir, scraping from the bottom, until the mixture is very hot to the touch and the egg whites have thickened slightly and turned from translucent to opaque, 5 to 7 minutes. Set the batter aside for 30 minutes to let the coconut absorb more of the goop.

When the cookies have sat for half an hour, preheat the oven to 350° Fahrenheit.

Scoop the batter up into a heaped tablespoon or scoop, making little mounds on your prepared cookie sheets. Bake for about 5 minutes, just until the coconut tips begin to color, then lower the oven temperature to 325° Fahrenheit.

Bake another 10 to 15 minutes, until the cookies are a beautiful cream and gold with deeper brown edges. If the coconut tips are browning too fast, lower the heat to 300° Fahrenheit. Set the pans or just the liners on racks to cool completely before removing the cookies. Eat, or freeze for future consumption. And a drizzle of ganache doesn't hurt.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Braided Sweet Tahini Bread

In general, I am a big fan of traditional pastry fillings. Almondy frangipane, rich and smooth pastry cream, tangy cheese mixtures. But recently I made a braided loaf filled with a swipe of sweetened tahini. And it was just lovely (especially paired with a cup of black tea). I love the brioche-like richness paired with the nutty filling, though I'm also now eying some variations that match the tahini filling with a leaner, pita-type dough. Because once you go down this tahini path, evidently it's hard to stop.

We tend to think of tahini, if we think of it at all, as a topping for falafel. Or for some ill-conceived hippie sauce. But it can be so much more. In the Middle East, it is used much as we use butter or margarine, to add richness and body (along with its own nutty nature) to a variety of preparations, both sweet and savory. You can read about this recipe, and other lovely tahini treatments, over at NPR's Kitchen Window.