In 2005, my grandma Nanny and I attended a special event at the Kansas City Culinary Institute. It’s a great little facility in downtown Overland Park that holds a huge variety of cooking classes and events. They host regionally acclaimed chefs on a pretty regular basis, but the advent of Sara Moulton was an especially momentous occasion. Sara is the executive chef of Gourmet Magazine, and at the time, her Food Network show Sara’s Secrets was still on the air. She had just released a book called Sara’s Secrets for Weeknight Meals, and was making appearances to promote it. The event at KCCI filled up in a snap, but luckily Nanny snagged us spots among the 100 or so attendees.
It was a really unique opportunity to see a celebrated chef, author, and TV personality in action. First, the crowd gathered in the demonstration area. The kitchen sits on a small stage, and although there is seating for the audience, there were so many people that it was largely standing room only. Sara emerged to a roar of applause, and proceeded to prepare three recipes from her new book (a signed copy of which was included with the price of admission!): this grated carrot salad, white chicken chili, and pecan pie squares. She was relaxed and talkative as she cooked, telling stories of her work at Gourmet Magazine and her time on Cooking Live. After the show, we all filtered into the dining hall to eat the meal that she had just made on stage. As we dined, Sara roamed the room with a glass of red wine, stopping at each table to chat. When she came over to us, I had my picture taken with her (she is a SHORT little lady!) and got to talk to her a little. During the show, she had made a tongue-in-cheek remark lamenting the lack of “real” chefs on the Food Network, and I just had to ask her who she might be referring to. She laughed and demurred, but did disclose that it was probably who I was thinking it was (wink).
Now, the meal, working backwards from dessert…the pecan pie squares were rich and amazing—basically, it was pecan pie filling, poured over a crust made of whole graham crackers and baked. I’ve made them many times since (my friend Emily consistently requests them in place of cake for her birthday). The white chicken chili (at the time I was ok with white meat) was good, though a little creamy for me. The introductory carrot salad, though, was not only the strangest thing I ate that day, but probably the strangest thing I’ve ever eaten. I’d never tasted this combination of flavors before, and haven’t tasted it since. It’s sweet, salty, spicy, briny, and tart all at the same time. I’ve made this again and again, yet I still can’t quite figure it out! Despite how just plain weird it sounds, this salad is deeply delicious and somehow utterly addicting. I urge you to put aside your doubts as I did, and give this complex, scrumptious dish a try.
3T extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp paprika
1 lb carrots, peeled if desired
1/3 cup golden raisins
1/3 cup chopped pimiento-stuffed green olives
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
2-3 tsp lemon juice, or to taste
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
Grate the carrots, either by hand or (preferably) in a food processor using the coarse grating disk.
Heat the oil in a small skillet over medium-low heat. Add the cumin seeds and cook until they turn a shade darker and become fragrant, about 4 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, stir in the paprika, and let the mixture cool. This smells SO good. If you want to keep the salad raw, you can skip this toasting step.
Toss the carrots with the cooled oil mixture. Add the raisins, olives, cilantro, lemon juice to taste, sugar, and salt to taste. If you don’t have golden raisins, I’ve used dried cranberries instead with great success. This time, I didn’t have any fresh cilantro, so I just left it out. You could also use parsley in its place.
Serve at room temperature or refrigerate, covered, and serve cold. If you ask me, it’s by far the best after sitting in the fridge overnight. Though each flavor is distinguishable, they marry so interestingly that every bite communicates the overall sense of “What the– yum!” There’s really no way to accurately illustrate the unique taste of this chewy, crunchy salad—you’ll just have to try it yourself.
PS—Sara has a new show, Sara’s Weeknight Meals, on public television. I haven’t seen it yet, but making this salad reminded me I need to check it out. You should too!
Yield: 8 servings. Per serving: 111 calories, 6.6g fat (.5g sat), 13.8g carbs, 3g fiber, 1.2g protein.