Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Comfort Me with Carrots

Deb of Kahakai Kitchen is the current host of Cook the Books, the bimonthly foodie book club where we read, comment on and cook from the same book. This time round is Ruth Reichl's second memoir Comfort Me with Apples (Tender at the Bone was her first and chronicled her youth as the daughter of legendary book designer Ernst Reichl, although perhaps more ink devoted to her troubled relationship with her difficult mother).

In this volume, the author relates her years in California as she segued from cooking in a hippie restaurant to starting her career as a restaurant critic. Reichl writes very vividly and very honestly. There seems to be no holds barred about dishing about her extra-marital affairs or the exquisite anguish over having to hand over her adopted infant daughter back to the birth parents.

American food seems to have come of age just at the same time Reichl was making her mark in food journalism. She describes her meetings and friendships with so many influential people that shaped modern American cuisine, including  Colman Andrews, Wolfgang Puck, MFK Fisher, Alice Waters, and Bruce Aidells, among others. Such an interesting memoir.

None of the recipes peppering the book particularly grabbed me, but I thought most about how Ruth and her artist husband Doug lived communally at Channing Way in People's Republic of Berkeley in late 70s. Bushy bearded apartment patriarch Nick castigates her new gig as restaurant critic for New West magazine: "You're going to spend your life telling spoiled, rich people where to eat too much obscene food?" You can almost smell the patchouli and alfalfa sprouts.

I was inspired to make a salad that might have appeared on the Channing Way dinner. Carrots are cheap and plentiful all year and would certainly have been available at the local food coop and grocery stores back then. And Nick would probably not have dismissed this dish as being "obscene".

Carrot Salad a la Channing Way

2 lbs. carrots, peeled and cut into 2 inch batons
3 Tbsp. snipped chives
2 Tbsp. finely chopped parsley
1/4 c. rice vinegar (cider vinegar works here too)
1/3 c. vegetable oil
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1 clove garlic, peeled and run through garlic press

Cut carrots into batons of equal size for even cooking. The skinnier part of the carrot will be cut into fourths, while the thicker, root end will be cut into sixths or more.

Bring a pot of salted water to a vigorous boil. Add carrots and bring to a boil again. Cook carrots until they are crisp-tender, about 4-5 minutes. Not a minute longer! (they will get mushy). Drain in colander and rinse with cold water. Shake to remove excess water.

While carrots are cooking, mix remaining ingredients. Pour this vinaigrette over the carrots. Cover and let marinate for several hours before serving.

Makes 6-8 servings.

This is a very versatile recipe. You could swap out the parsley for dill or cilantro or ground cumin. Chives and garlic can be substituted for small amounts of chopped red onions or shallots. A teaspoon of fresh grated ginger is also nice.

I brought a version of this Carrot Salad to a Superbowl Party and everyone seemed to appreciate this refreshing break from the rich, heavy snacks at the buffet. I usually think of fresh grated or shredded carrots for a vegetable salad, but cooking the carrots first is a nice change and the carrots get a sweeter, mellower taste.

Deb will have a roundup of all the Comfort Me with Apples posts after the March 30 deadline, so do drop by Cook the Books to check it out then. And feel free to join us in reading our next book,  Robin Mather's The Feast Nearby: How I Lost my Job, Buried a Marriage, and Found My Way by Keeping Chickens, Foraging, Preserving, Bartering, and Eating Locally (All on Forty Dollars a Week).