This recipe is in honour of Tooting in south-west London and its wonderful international food culture. This is where I grew up and my parents still live. I did not appreciate this area at all when I was younger, thinking it just busy and messy, but as my food world has expanded, so has my appreciation of the area. There are a staggering collection of shops and restaurants in this London suburb – Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan, Turkish, Polish, Lebanese, to name but some of nationalities represented there. There are cafes, restaurants, dosa bars, bakeries, grocers, food stalls and markets, both day and night.
The restaurants are great, but the breadth of singingly fresh produce available there, at a fantastically cheap price, is even more amazing. I try and go there to get just one or two things I need, but inevitably come back with a bag full of vegetables I have never even heard of before. This week I went out for celery and parsley and came back with fresh chickpeas, miniature aubergines and these stunning Pakistani carrots.
I was aware that carrots came in all different colours, although I rarely see anything other than orange available in the shops. These bright, salmon-pink delights caught my eye immediately and as soon as I saw them I knew I would have to buy them. And then think of something to do with them.
Carrots are not really one my favourite vegetables, although I always include them in my fresh juices and smoothies as they couple nutritious vegetable goodness with a light sweetness that makes them palatable to drink. Cooked, or in savoury dishes, I am less keen, finding the sweetness a little cloying. But eat them I must, so my thoughts turned to salad – keep them raw, crunchy, colourful and healthy.
And what better way to chisel into the dish my food-find-of-the-month, Aspall Cider Balsamic Vinegar. My favourite cider turned into a rich balsamic-style vinegar – revelation! Tart, tangy and savoury, but with a rich, caramel, apple-y sweetness. What more could you ask for in a vinegar?
Before I began I did a little research on what went well with the carrots, turning to my favourite food pairing website (see my post on the subject here). Marrying this information with what was available in my parent’s kitchen, I settled on a combination of carrot, avocado, hazelnut, raspberry, parsley, quince and apple.
The simple dressing was made with some fragrant quince jam from my mum’s fair hands, a light olive oil, some of the delightful cider balsamic and a little salt and pepper. It was sweet, tart and perfumed.
I peeled the carrots into beautiful, wafer-thin strips so they would sit in lovely, curly shapes on the plate. They were light, voluminous and looked wonderful, but I should let you know that ‘family feedback’ informed me they were difficult to eat that way. I didn’t have much of a problem, but I’ll leave it for you to decide – style or practicality?
I toasted the hazelnuts first which really enhances their flavour – it only takes a couple of minutes on the hob and the difference is remarkable (no need to peel them for this recipe). They add both another flavour dimension and a very welcome crunchy contrast to the salad.
You can use either fresh or frozen raspberries (I used frozen, which can be crumbled into little pieces). These should not be left out – they do not add any extra sweetness and really lift the flavour of the whole dish.
Other carrots can, of course, be substituted, but the colour and contrast will not be quite as fabulous. If you need to hold the salad, lightly coat the avocado slices in a little lemon or lime juice and dress the salad only when you are ready to serve.
Have you chanced upon any remarkable new vegetables recently? Or unusual flavour combinations? What was your food find of the month? I’d love to hear about your discoveries…
- 4 teaspoons light olive oil or similar
- 2 teaspoons quince jelly, syrup or jam
- 2 teaspoons cider balsamic vinegar
- salt, to taste
- freshly ground pepper, to taste
- 3 carrots, peeled into thin strips
- 1 avocado, peeled & sliced
- handful of hazelnuts, toasted
- handful of raspberries
- handful fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
- Mix together the vinegar and quince syrup, then gradually whisk in the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Gently toss together the carrot and avocado. Drizzle over the dressing, to taste - there may be some left over. Toss again and top with the hazelnuts, raspberries and parsley.