Veg-Head Monday: Moroccan Carrot Salad

December 5, 2010

Ah, Morocco. Sounds romantic, yes? Makes you think of spice markets, glistening apricots and dates, steamy cups of floral tea…

And I’m sure there are places in Morocco like that–there have to be, right?  But the day I spent in Tangier didn’t offer the same experience.

When I was in high school, my parents took me to the coast of Spain (yeah, I’m spoiled).  My father, the man with endless wanderlust,  was enchanted with the idea of taking the hydrofoil over to Morocco for a day.  I wasn’t so sure about that little detour, but a girl lucky enough to be in Spain doesn’t complain.

With my typical vacationing luck, I’d contracted a nasty sinus infection the day before we flew to Spanish shores, so I hacked all over the hydrofoil, garnering venomous stares from anyone in my vicinity.

When we disembarked, I was struck by two things: the blazing heat and the sense of suffocation. We were engulfed in colors, fabrics, beads, copper pots, rugs. Beggars tugged on my dress, my arms, my hands. We were literally awash in a tide of desperate people, all with something to sell–shouting, yelling, banging on drums.

For someone who loves nothing more than a book, a big chair and a quiet room, this was kinda traumatic.  I remember hunching into myself, trying to shrink so that nobody would accost me, holding my hands over my ears to block out the catcalls and music. I’d been in some bustling markets before, where the sellers aggressively pitched their wares–markets in Mexico and Chinatown–but this was a market on steroids.  I struggled for breath, sucking in gasps of hot, dusty air.

Eventually, the initial crush of peddlers thinned out, so I could actually regain my breath and see the marketplace itself. There were huge bins of whole spices, sacks of saffron and couscous, tea leaves baking in the sun, and those mounds of dates–they were everywhere. They were also…moving. I had to stop a minute and blink repeatedly, wondering if the antibiotics and the close quarters were inducing a Timothy Leary moment.

Blink. Blink. Nope. Not hallucinating. Those bins of dates were still moving.  And then a hand with a huge fan in it swooped down and hundreds of flies took flight. Bile churning in my gut, I turned away to look at something else and my gaze landed on a stand with dozens of slaughtered chickens hanging upside down. Not good for the old nausea.

Then our tour guide cheerfully took us to lunch.

The restaurant looked clean enough, but my mother and I feasted on bottled water and watched, in horror, as my father tucked into his couscous and tagine. “What?” he said, as we gawked. “What’s the matter with you?”  We shrugged sheepishly and focused on the portly belly dancers, who were enthusiastically shakin’ their bacon.

The highlight of the day was stopping by the snake charmer. We watched as a wizened man hovered over a big straw basket, gyrating madly, blowing hard and fast into his instrument, and out popped…the oldest, scrawniest, most moth-eaten snake you’ve ever seen. This reptile looked so damn tired, so over it, that my mother and I burst into shrieks of hysterical mirth, much to the snake charmer’s displeasure.

The tour guide hastily scurried us toward the waiting hydrofoil and my father, shaking his head, muttered, “Je-sus. I can’t take you two anywhere.”

I know that day sounds kind of nightmarish, but it’s one of my all-time favorite travel memories. I’m odd that way.

The recipe I’m sharing with you today channels a much more pleasant kind of Morocco. The movie-star version of Morocco.

Oh my, this is a seductive little salad. It may not look like much, but believe me, this salad is working it: it’s got exotic spice, a little tang, a fresh hit of mint and the heady crunch of almond. Your senses are going to perk right up when you take the first forkful.

If you wish, you can add a sprinkle of feta cheese and call this lunch, which is what I did.

It also makes a great accompaniment to grilled lamb chops; particularly if you marinate them in olive oil, lemon and thyme.  Light some candles, pour a nice chilled Sauvingnon Blanc, and you’re rocking the Casbah.

Moroccan Carrot Salad

serves 6 to 8

slightly adapted from Bon Appetit magazine

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground coriander

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

pinch of ground cloves

1/3 cup olive oil

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

1/4 cup fresh orange juice

3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

1 pound carrots,  peeled and coarsely grated

4 cups mixed baby greens

1 small sweet onion, thinly sliced

1 cup sliced toasted almonds

Whisk first 7 ingredients together in a large bowl. Whisk in olive oil, lemon juice and orange juice. Add mint. Add carrots and baby greens and toss to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper, top with onion and serve.

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