The past two weeks have been mildly crazy. We went to the theatre, had lunches and dinners with friends, I dutifully attended ‘networking’ events (where older men in black suits huddle with other black suits…), got excited about Good Food Month in October, and felt a general festive restlessness as Sydney finally burst into spring madness.
In the midst of this, I got my cooking assignment for the Bitten Word Cover to Cover Challenge 2013. In this challenge, we are each assigned one recipe from the September issue of Bon Appétit magazine, so that as a group, we will have made all 47 recipes in the magazine.
I sign up for these things to widen my cooking & baking horizons. Cover to Cover was no exception. The recipe was one of the simplest I have attempted, and not the type of recipe I blog about. Yet, once I started, the minimalist recipe made me really pay attention to the colours, textures and flavours of the ingredients. Making a simple recipe became a feast for the senses.
The recipe is carrot and beet slaw with pistachios and raisins. In the original recipe, carrots and beetroot are julienned, mixed in garlic-flavoured lemon juice, golden raisins, chilli, parsley, mint, and toasted pistachios.
Bon Appétit ‘s photo was a riot of colours. Red and golden beetroot, orange-red carrots, matchsticks of summer tumbling over one another to create a festive whole. It was a beautiful chaos; a styled, self consciously casual, beautiful chaos.
I knew I needed similarly gorgeous colours to do the recipe justice. A visit to the ever-fabulous Eveleigh Markets yielded tiny red and golden beets, a variety of heirloom carrots with rosy-fading-to-pale colours, parsley so young, tender, delicately flavoured that they could be micro herbs. There were also other herbs and vegetables that I could not resist adding to the bag.
Rather than recreate the Bon Appétit styling, because, well, that would be hard without a mandolin, I began to play with the carrots and beets. Instead of this:
I ended up with this:
Instead of julienne, I sliced the beets and carrots to keep their distinctive silhouettes, laid out the slices to show off the different shapes and colours, added the other ingredients, dressing, and had something that was like a sketch, a tangential idea for a carrot and beet slaw.
(Note I swapped dried cranberries for golden raisins, and pepitas and crushed hazelnuts for pistachios, in both cases because my trusty grocer was out of these ingredients – !)
I left the ‘slaw’ sitting for an hour before serving, and the beetroot and carrot slices were ever slightly softened but still crunchy. The flavours were clean, the beet was sweetly sharp, the carrots had an earthy smell of real carrots. They didn’t need elaborate cooking or fussy dressing, and were the perfect antidote to a week of heavy takeaway or restaurant food.
That evening, I made a couscous salad from these ingredients. Carrots, beet and cranberries lightly sauteed with cumin, cardamon and honey; a cloud of chopped parsley and mint; plus chorizo sliced and grilled, and a warm dressing of tahini and lemon. It was full of colour and flavour, and (maybe except for the chorizo) sneakily healthy.
The next day, in a nose-to-tail mood, I also used the beet greens in a frittata, and served blanched carrot top with a Japanese sesame dressing. These were so good, I will be buying beetroot and carrots soon – for their greens.
A feast for the senses, thanks to the Bitten Word.
Carrot and beet slaw with pistachios and raisins
(this is the original recipe from Bon Appétit, with some of my changes annotated)
2 garlic cloves, crushed
3/4 cup golden raisins (I used dried cranberries, sliced in half)
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
6 medium carrots, about 1 lb or 450 grams, peeled, julienned
2 medium beets, about 1 lb or 450 grams, peeled, julienned
1/2 packed cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves (I also added a couple of sprigs of other flowering herbs)
1/4 packed cup (or a handful) fresh mint leaves
3 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp red pepper / chilli flakes
Kosher salt (or coarse salt) and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 cup unsalted, shelled raw pistachios (I used pepitas and hazelnuts)
1. Preheat oven to 350°F / 175°C. Spread pistachios (or hazelnuts) on a lined baking tray or baking sheet; toast, stirring occasionally, until the nuts turn golden brown or the hazelnut has cooked, 6–8 minutes. Let cool; and coarsely chop. (I crushed pepitas in a mortar and pestle)
2. Combine garlic, raisins, and vinegar in a large bowl; let sit 1 hour.
3. Remove garlic from raisin mixture and discard. Add carrots, beets, pistachios, parsley, mint, lemon juice, and red pepper/chilli flakes; season with salt and pepper, toss to combine. Add oil; toss gently.