There is a beauty in a salad that you will never find in a roasted leg of lamb, or a chicken curry, or a pasta dish no matter how good and how well made they are. There is a freedom of spirit in a salad. You can free wheel in the kitchen. Salads can be immensely satisfying – a meal in their own right.
A roasted carrot salad has been brewing in my mind for a while now. I first fell in love with roasted carrots while living in France. Often at the local market a 2 kilogram bag of carrots would be a euro or two. I would eat raw carrots like a rabbit, only turning to other carrot recipes when, alarmingly, my finger tips began to look like I had rubbed them in tumeric. I made carrot soup sweetened with braised leeks or fresh orange juice or, alternatively bulked up with potatoes. And then, when I reached the the end of my tether for carrot and orange soup – who knew there was such a tether? roasting became the way to go.
Cut into long strips the carrots char slightly at the thinner edges while the thicker end near the top of the carrots maintain their soft bite. Roasted carrots, while not the prettiest roast vegetable to look at all withered and wrinkly, they are perhaps the best to eat. They are sweet and if well seasoned with good oil and salt and pepper take on a buttery, salty-sweet flavour. In France I would eat them simply straight from the roasting dish, pulling each long wedge from the soft tangle of burnt orange. Or I would pulse them into hummus with a pinch of cayenne and paprika, then slather it on fresh, crusty bread with sliced tomato.
It wasn’t until this winter with bags of carrots seeming to outnumber potatoes, pumpkin and other roastable vegetables that I rediscovered the roasted carrot. I like the shape of a roasted carrot, long and slender. A carrot roasted to tenderness and vibrant orange seems quite different and elegant lying next to round, pale golden potatoes. The inspiration for this carrot salad came from a Ruth Pretty recipe I have always been fond of. The carrots are tender, boiled perhaps as they are less caramel tasting and more mellow, but are zinged up with plenty of chilli, olives, and coriander. I love the heat of the chilli, the acidity of the olives and the freshness of the coriander.
For my salad I roasted everything together – beginning with a whole pan laden with chopped carrots and whole garlic cloves, then twice opening the oven to toss in chopped red chilli and Kalamata olives. Next time I might toss in almonds to roast for the last few minutes to add a bit of crunch.
The quinoa salad is more of an everything salad; endlessly versatile. Start with a base of cooked quinoa – I used a red, black and white mix – and add whatever you have on hand. Sautéed asparagus with lemon, feta, sundried tomatoes, red and yellow capsicum finely diced, sunflower seeds, fresh mint, chopped tomatoes and zuchini rounds cooked until soft and floppy together with fresh basil leaves. The extra bits and pieces nestle well in the tiny fronds of the quinoa and their soft nutty flavour is the ideal vehicle for stronger tastes and textures. Go wild.
Roasted Carrot Salad
A large amount of carrots, say a kilo or so.
4 cloves garlic
2 small red chilli
a handful of black olives
salt and pepper
a small bunch of fresh coriander
Pre-heat oven to 180°C. Chop carrots in half lengthwise then into quarters lengthwise until you have long strips. Place the carrots and the peeled garlic cloves in a roasting pan with a generous slug of olive oil and salt and pepper. Roast for 30 minutes then add the finely diced chilli. After another 10 minutes add the olives and continue to cook for another 10 to 15 minutes. Garnish with chopped coriander.