When Rosh Hashanah — the Jewish new year — rolls around, sugar, and specifically honey, often is on the menu. It's a kind of edible prayer, a hopeful way of attracting sweet things to one's life in the year to come.
That's why this salad is based on a sweet vegetable — the carrot — and flavoured with honey and dates. But you don't have to celebrate Rosh Hashanah to love this recipe. Refreshing and simple to prepare, it's a great and healthy end-of-summer treat no matter what your faith.
Technique-wise, I borrowed a trick I learned for beets: I grate them.
For years, I hated beets. To me, they tasted like dirt. And the little devils start out hard as rocks, so hard you have to boil them for an hour before you can even think about cutting into them. One day it occurred to me that I might be able to make beets more user-friendly by running them through the grating disk of a food processor.
Much as I love my chef's knife, I am not ashamed to reach for a more complex piece of equipment if it will make my life easier. So I peeled and grated some beets using the processor. And guess how long it then took me to saute them in a large skillet? Three minutes. My beet-loving husband was ecstatic, and I felt like a whole new world had opened up.
I started rummaging through the fridge and cupboard in search of additional candidates for the grater. The carrot was a natural. I grated a bunch, flavoured it with hot pepper flakes and lime, then cooked it all in a large skillet coated with vegetable oil, just as I had the beets. Sure enough, 3 minutes later they were done. And delicious. Cooked shredded carrots quickly shouldered their way into our weeknight dinner rotation.
And it turns out shredded carrots are wonderful raw, too, especially in a salad. All they needed was some Middle Eastern flavouring — paprika and cumin and a spritz of lemon to balance their natural sweetness. Enhancing this basic line-up with a little honey and some chopped dates makes it a salad wonderfully fit for Rosh Hashanah.
Paprika, by the way, is one of my favourite ingredients these days. In this recipe, I used a mix of hot smoked and sweet Hungarian. Who'd have thought that the bright red powder my mom used to sprinkle on hard-boiled eggs and potato salad just for looks one day would become the sweetheart of cutting-edge American chefs?
As for the dates, I have a couple of tricks for dealing with their annoying stickiness, which makes them a pain to chop. If you spritz your knife with cooking spray before you start, you shouldn't have any trouble.
And when it comes time to mix the finished salad, use your impeccably clean hands, rather than salad spoons, to make sure the dates are happily dispersed throughout the salad rather than clumped together in a sullen bunch. I will admit that I was a little worried about serving this salad to my husband because he usually does not like sweet mixed with his savory. But all the balancing ingredients must have worked. He loved it.
GRATED CARROT SALAD WITH DATES AND PISTACHIOS
Start to finish: 30 minutes
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1 teaspoon paprika, sweet, hot or smoked, or a combination
1 teaspoon honey
1 pound carrots
1/4 cup chopped pitted dates (about 4 whole)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup shelled natural pistachios, walnuts or almonds, chopped
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon shredded fresh mint
In a small skillet over medium-low, heat the oil. Add the cumin seeds and cook, swirling the pan occasionally, until they turn a shade darker and become fragrant, about 4 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the paprika and the honey. Let the mixture cool to room temperature.
Meanwhile, coarsely grate the carrots, preferably using the coarse grating disk on a food processor. In a large bowl, toss the carrots with the cooled oil-cumin mixture, the dates, lemon juice, pistachios and salt, using your hands to incorporate the dates. Stir in the mint just before serving.
Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 180 calories; 90 calories from fat (50 per cent of total calories); 10 g fat (1.5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 0 mg cholesterol; 21 g carbohydrate; 3 g protein; 4 g fiber; 220 mg sodium.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Sara Moulton was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years, and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows. She currently stars in public television's "Sara's Weeknight Meals" and has written three cookbooks, including "Sara Moulton's Everyday Family Dinners."