The seven of us sat around a low table in a casual American–style barbecue restaurant, relishing the fact that we were drinking craft beer instead of the vaguely beer-flavored carbonated water that they try to pass off as beer in most of Asia. The room was designed to look like you were in someone’s backyard in The States, sitting on patio furniture and enjoying the outdoors.
One of the appetizers arrived. It was a small plate with tiny slices of grilled pork belly, which had the perfect fat-to-meat ratio that eludes most pork belly. Delicious. One the side, a small stainless steel cup held a brightly colored salad of carrots and cilantro. Restaurants often use carrots as a garnish, and usually I pass over them because they tend to be dried out and flavorless. The cilantro caught my eye, however, and I took a small forkful. A friend sitting across from me did the same. We both bit into the crunchy, sweet, acidic salad at the same time. It was the perfect way to cut the rich pork belly. Trying to mask our delight, our eyes swept the table to see if anyone had noticed. Our other dinner companions sat back in their chairs, nursing their beers. They ignored the salad. She and I reluctantly split the remainder of the salad, murmuring to each other “this is so much better than coleslaw” and “how fantastic is the combination of cilantro and carrots?”
I had forgotten how delicious raw carrots can be. They’re sweet, crunchy, and satisfying to eat. And they are so good for you: full of fiber, vitamin A and beta-carotene. This salad was a surprising reminder that I really need to incorporate carrots into my diet on a regular basis. So I wanted to remind you also: don’t forget about carrots!
The dinner was on Friday. It’s Monday now, and I’m on a mission to replicate that salad after thinking about it all weekend. I hesitate to call this a recipe, honestly. Carrots and cilantro form the base, and you can add an endless combination of flavors in a vinaigrette to customize the salad to your taste.
Carrot and Cilantro Salad
Serves 2 as a side
1 large carrot
1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, chopped
Juice from ¼ of a lime (about ½ tablespoon)
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon neutral oil
Pinch of salt
Julienne the carrot on a mandoline. If you don’t have a mandoline, you could shred the carrot by hand or in a food processor but it will be lighter and fluffier, not quite as substantial as this salad. Which wouldn’t be a bad thing at all, just different!
Combine the remaining ingredients to make a vinaigrette. Toss with the carrots and serve.
Note: This salad really needs to be dressed right before serving, or the carrots will wilt and they won’t be nearly as much fun to eat.
A few variations:
Latin: add 1/2 teaspoon of cumin and chopped jalapeno (to taste)
Thai: substitute a few dashes of fish oil for the vinegar, and add 1 finely chopped Thai bird chili pepper
North African: add ½ teaspoon each of cumin and coriander, add a small handful of rehydrated raisins.