07 January 2010

Mashed Carrot Salad

I'll just say it. I have a problem with Claudia Roden.

Claudia Roden, the doyenne of Middle Eastern cooking. Published by Judith Jones, who brought us French cooking with Julia Child, and then Italian cooking with Marcella Hazan, Claudia Roden brought an English language compendium of Middle Eastern recipes to a wider public. Without her, you may not have hummus and taboule in prepackaged versions on your grocers shelves.

But my problem is that when I open her Book of Middle Eastern Food, I don't see things that jive with what I've eaten living and traveling in the Middle East. Which is not to say that her recipes aren't well-researched and tasty. My problem is that her book doesn't contain recipes for common dishes like fetteh and pretty much omits regional breads or Yemeni cuisine. And she uses ingredients like red wine vinegar or serrano chiles, unheard of in traditional Middle Eastern cooking.

Part of the problem is that Ms. Roden, born in Jewish Cairo, spent most of her life in London, speaks little Arabic, and when she wrote her first book she had little experience traveling in the Middle East. And so, it makes sense that the recipes of a woman who has not lived in the Middle East since 1956 would not synch with someone who was wandering a souk just a few weeks ago.

All this is not to excoriate the huge contributions Ms. Roden made, her books have been updated to include more contemporary recipes (the new edition now has fetteh), and I love her orange-almond cake, her molokhia, hamine eggs, and many other dishes. And I could never denegrate someone descended of the famous Douek family of Syria (also the family of cookbook author Poopa Douek).

A friend served a mashed carrot salad at dinner the other night, and it was so delicious I had to go right home and replicate it myself. Searching around, there was Claudia Roden's mashed carrot salad recipe, and so I riffed on that, omitting the red wine vinegar (?!), and adding a dab of butter to enhance the sweetness of carrots. Lots of cilantro leaves and feta sprinkled on top add herby, salty notes to the dish. I ate the entire thing in one sitting. An entire pound of carrots. It's pretty good.

I guess what I'm saying is that Ms. Roden was a great foundation, but maybe it's time for the second generation. Of course, I'm also saying that this carrot salad is pretty damn good so you should make it soon.

Mashed Carrot Salad
If you don't have whole cumin seeds, ground cumin will do.

1 lb of carrots, peeled and chopped
1 small clove garlic
1 pat of butter
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/4 teaspoon salt
a sprinkling of red pepper
some crumbled feta for serving (goat cheese can work too)
a small bunch of cilantro, leaves picked off (about 1/4 cup packed leaves)

1. Cook the carrots and the garlic clove in boiling salted water until very tender.
2. Lightly toast the cumin seeds in a skillet, then add them to the bow of a food processor or chopper.
3. Drain carrots and add them to food processor with the butter, salt, and red pepper. Pulse until a chunky puree is reached.
4. Scrape carrot mash into a serving dish, crumble the feta and scatter the cilantro leaves over top. Serve.


Siân said...

Hmm, interesting. I've had a gut feeling about Claudia Roden's recipes myself-I've never been to the middle east (although I want to) but have eaten lots of good middle eastern food (of various countries) in the UK from it's diaspora. So it's interesting to have that feeling confirmed by you. Are there other writers you could recommend? I also have "crazy water pickled lemons" by Diana Henry, and the Moro cookbooks (they're more north africa/spain) but I'm well aware these are not traditional.

And the carrot salad looks lovely-I've made something similar from Casa Moro only that included caraway seeds. It was tasty!

Azita Mehran said...

Well written, well said!
I love carrot salads. I'm definitely going to make this.Thank you.

candice said...

I love mushy foods, so naturally, mashed carrots sounds delicious to me, especially with the combination of spices and feta. Thanks!

Stephen said...

Beautiful sounding recipe. I gotta say, I want to love Claudia Roden's books, and I'm glad I own them, because they are so well written, so beautiful to look at and so full of interesting history, but they don't always steer a cookbook-dependent cook like me down the right path. There's often something off in them -- some texture that doesn't land right, some cooking time that doesn't seem accurate. But it's all worth it for that orange almond cake.

vicki in GA said...

I agree with you about Roden's book. I love the carrot recipe.

Katherine said...

This is a delicious salad, so much better than the simple ingredients suggest. The original recipe from the dinner party roasts the carrots in 1/4 cup-1/3 cup olive oil at 400 in a covered dish for 25 minutes, adds the toasted, then ground cumin seeds, then cooks 10-15 minutes more at 400. No garlic or red pepper (just salt and black pepper) in the original, though these sound like tasty additions.

Anonymous said...

Keep posting stuff like this i really like it

Mercedes said...

Thanks Katherine! I think it's the roasting part that I was missing out on, it probably brings out the sweetness of the carrots.

Rachel said...

Just made - and ate - this.
Thank you!

HappyTummy said...

that's a bummer about claudia roden's books. i bought arabesque for my sis last year, and was thinking of picking it up for myself.

what cookbooks do you suggest do a good job of representing middle eastern fare? i'd be very interested in your thoughts, as i love ME food! thanks!

Teresa Blankmeyer Burke said...

I'm with you on Claudia Roden. Then again, I grew up on different fare - more like the stuff in cookbooks by Helen Corey (Art of Syrian Cooking) and Madeline Farah's Lebanese Cuisine - which comes closest to what my Situ cooked.