This week is our 30th anniversary. This weekend Jan mentioned that her favorite salad was carrot. We were at the farmer’s market and she wanted to buy some heirloom carrots for her favorite salad. We thought through how I could possibly not know this after all this time. Jan, apparently, has always loved carrot salad. She buys carrot salad to eat for lunch whenever she has a chance, except when I am with her. If she is at a business dinner and there is carrot salad in the buffet she will take a big scoop, except if I am with her. This, it seems, has been going on behind my back for 35 years.
I looked at several recipes online and most of them did nothing for me. Many had lots of mayonnaise, mustards and inappropriate spices. As an anniversary gift I will craft a salad to suit Jan’s personal tastes.
Jan likes pine nuts (and rabbit), she thinks it is partly as an element of her forgotten Native American heritage (a confluence of her Muskogee, Creek background and the 1918 pandemic). She also likes raisins, perhaps from “growing up in the grapes” on the outskirts of Fresno (it is all ‘burbs now, but then it was grapes as far as a child could see). I know that her salad must contain these two elements, pine nuts and raisins. Jan has also greatly favored agave syrup lately. So any sweet element must use this rather than sugar.
If you are not going to use mayonnaise as the foundation of your dressing, the usual base is oil and vinegar. The question is which oil and vinegar? For some households this may be a limited choice, but that would not be my home.
My choice of oils—that I keep on hand—are: canola oil (processed rape seed oil). [How I miss the unprocessed rape seed oil of China. Canola oil is tasteless, the unprocessed oil tastes like Sichuan.], corn oil, olive oil, extra virgin olive oil, peanut oil, pumpkin seed oil (that my sister bought for me one Christmas) and sesame oil. A few quick taste tests left me with peanut oil. Not flavorless, but it did not over power the carrot taste.
The vinegar was a harder choice. The options from my kitchen were: apple cider vinegar, the balsamic vinegars (mission fig, pomegranate, regular, and white), rice vinegar, sherry vinegar, red or white wine vinegar, or white vinegar. Some I could eliminate right off, as being too one dimensional. To make my final decision, I made mini batches of each and taste tested with carrot to make my choice. The pomegranate balsamic vinegar was the clear choice. (I had wanted to go with the white balsamic, because it would not discolor the carrots, but an independent taste test (one of Eilene’s friends) confirmed that the pomegranate was the clear flavor winner.)
As far as additional spice elements: coriander, because it complements the carrot taste so well; a pinch of salt and white pepper; and finally a pinch of dry mustard to act as an emulsifier for the oil and vinegar.
Karl’s Anniversary Carrot Salad
2 lb. carrots
¼ cup, pine nuts
¼ cup raisins
½ tsp. coriander seeds
2 Tbs. pomegranate balsamic vinegar
2 Tbs. peanut oil
½ tsp. Agave syrup
Pinch Kosher salt
Pinch white pepper
Pinch dry yellow mustard
1. Coarsely grate carrots and put them in a medium mixing bowl.
2. Toast the pine nuts in a small skillet over a medium heat. Set aside and let cool completely.
3. Toast coriander seeds in a small skillet over a medium heat and crush them finely.
4. Add the vinegar, peanut oil, agave syrup, salt, pepper and mustard. Mix well.
5. Add the pine nuts, raisins and the dressing and toss well to coat the carrots. Let the salad rest for at least 20 minutes to meld, tossing occasionally.