I’ll never forget the gastronomic jolt I experienced when I first tried Moroccan food. I was 17-years-old and spending a semester at the American School of Tangier. On the very first day, a classmate and I wandered off campus and had lunch at a tiny café full of men smoking hookahs and drinking hot mint tea. I remember having couscous and being completely surprised by the complex flavors of mint, cumin and other spices that to this day I can’t identify.
And it was during my time in Morocco that I learned to expand my definition of what constituted a “salad.” That’s because, as in Morocco, it’s more typical for salads in northwestern African countries to be made from foods other than lettuce. One of the most popular ingredients for salads over there is carrots, both raw and cooked. Often served as an accompaniment to couscous or shish kababs, these tasty salads are complex yet simple to prepare.
Like so many dishes, Moroccan carrot salads are made at least a day before serving in order for the flavors to blend and develop together. They are prepared with a typical Moroccan marinade called charmoula, which consists of lemon juice, cumin, mint, garlic and salt. The
marinade is also used in a wide variety of lamb and chicken preparations. In fact, I think this salad makes an excellent side to grilled meats using the same marinade. As springtime approaches, keep this salad in mind and don’t be afraid to add your own exotic twist on it. I’ve cut the carrots into diagonal shapes here, but you can also use shredded or cubed carrots. If you are truly pressed for a shortcut, simply buy bagged baby carrots and go from there.
Moroccan Carrot Salad
Serves 4 to 5
Three pounds large carrots, peeled and cut in 1/4 diagonal slices
1/3 cup chopped parsley or cilantro
1/4 cup chopped mint
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon finely minced garlic
2 tablespoons cumin
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon kosher salt or more to taste
1 tablespoon freshly ground white pepper or more to taste
Good pinch of cayenne pepper
Peel and trim carrots on both ends while bringing a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cut carrots into 1/4” diagonal slices and add to boiling water. Cook for approximately five minutes until carrots are slightly soft but not mushy. Strain completely and place in a large mixing bowl. Add all remaining ingredients and toss thoroughly while carrots are still hot. For very best results, make a day beforehand and keep in the refrigerator before serving.
Chef’s Note: “Besseha” is Moroccan Arabic for “good health!”