Eat Roots and Leaves

carrot tops2A pile of green carrot tops formed next to the cashier at the farmers market. They had been summarily removed from their lanky roots like some kind of ritual beheading. I declined the procedure, adamant about finding a use for the lush fronds.

Mark was skeptical, and rightfully so. My enthusiasm to use every last bit of edible vegetation sometimes ends with me guiltily disposing of unidentifiable decomposing matter.

Sure enough, the days ticked by and those carrot tops sat unused in the fridge. I knew I had to act boldly, and quickly. I would not take the easy way out and use the greens as a casual garnish. After all, carrots are in the same family as parsley. Pull up a parsley plant, and the root looks like a mini-carrot, so why not use the tops in a similar manner?

Enter my carrot top interpretation of tabbouleh.

Tabbouleh is a parsley and mint-based salad of Middle Eastern origin. Here I swapped out the parsley for the carrot greens, which have a similar flavor. In fact, carrots were originally cultivated for their aromatic greens.

Traditionally tabbouleh also contains couscous or bulgur wheat, chopped tomatoes, onion, lemon juice and olive oil. With tomato season still a ways off, my unconventional version of this salad incorporates roasted carrots instead. If I had only used those carrot tops on one of the many cool gray days we’ve had this spring, I wouldn’t have to turn on the oven during this sudden heat wave.

Punishment!

Carrying on with the Middle Eastern theme, I assaulted the carrots with harissa, a Tunisian mixture of chili peppers, cumin, coriander and various other spices. It can be found as a paste or as a dry spice powder, which is what is used here. As someone who grew up chomping on atomic fireballs, I find harissa pleasantly spicy. However, if eating Buffalo wings makes you cry, you may want sit this one out.

Well into this experiment I discovered that I lacked bulgur or couscous, the traditional grain components of the tabbouleh. I was impulsive and had not checked my supplies before cooking. Thankfully, I had some whole-wheat pearl couscous (aka Israeli couscous) on hand. As Bob Ross would say, it was a happy accident. Pearl couscous is basically a tiny round pasta ball, larger than semolina couscous and pleasantly chewy once cooked. You can use either type of couscous here.

I’ve heard that eating spicy foods in hot weather actually helps you cool off, due to the sweat that may emerge. That’s one of the advantages of this dish.

By eating those carrots roots to leaves, you’ve just doubled the value of those carrots. A good deal, indeed.

Most importantly: it tastes pretty damn good too and travels well.

Spicy Carrot Top Salad

For the carrots:

2 cups diced carrots (I used about 8 small to medium carrots)
1 1/2 Tbsp harrissa powder
1 1/2 Tbsp olive oil

Toss together all ingredients in a roasting pan and roast in a 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes, or until soft. You don’t want them to be mushy, so check on them at around the 15-minute mark as oven temperatures vary.

While the carrots are roasting—and if you can stand the heat of your kitchen—prepare the rest of the salad:

1/2 cup uncooked whole wheat pearl couscous (aka Israeli couscous) or semolina couscous (Look for Bob’s Red Mill or Near East brands of pearl or semolina couscous.)
Cook couscous according to package directions.

2 cups carrot greens, thick stems removed, finely chopped
1/4 to 3/4 cup fresh mint leaves, finely chopped*
One small red onion, finely diced
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (from about one and a half lemons)
3 Tbsp olive oil
Salt & Pepper to taste

Combine the cooked couscous and the rest of the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add lemon juice and olive oil, salt and pepper to taste, and mix again. Ideally, allow salad to sit for 30 minutes or ore at room temperature before serving to allow flavors to meld.

This will keep well in your refrigerator for about 2 days. Serve right out of the fridge or at room temperature.

*Note about mint: This amount depends on the type of mint you are using. Spearmint is much more pungent and mouthwash-y than peppermint, it’s more restrained relative. Therefore, if using spearmint, start with a ¼ cup here. If you want your salad mintier, add more

tabbouleh

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