Following on from my post last Wednesday, it’s time for another seasonal salad. I mentioned that it was Mediterranean foods like tomatoes that make up what we think of as healthy, so this dish is a nod to that – using largely North African flavours to jazz up the humble carrot. It also gave me an opportunity to play with the cheese-making kit I received for Christmas, which I used to make the ricotta for this recipe. Of course, it’s not exactly a North African staple, but the flavours work nicely!
The kit came with everything you might need for the three simplest Italian cheeses (ricotta, mozzarella and mascarpone) including a cheesecloth and plastic basket for draining, a thermometer and the citric acid and vegetarian-friendly rennet: all I needed to add was the milk. The 200g ricotta for this recipe came from a litre of whole milk, so it was much cheaper than buying the cheese in the supermarket, although it felt like quite a waste pouring the whey down the sink (any suggestions for using it would be greatly appreciated!). Traditionally, ricotta is made from the whey leftover from other cheese-making, the name meaning twice-cooked, but I couldn’t really tell the difference. It added a creamy element to the finished salad, so didn’t feel dry despite having only a thick, tahini dressing spooned on top.
This salad recipe also includes a Moroccan spice blend called ras-el-hanout. It’s a fragrant mix that would vary from vendor to vendor and contain their best spices, like rose petals and cardamom as well as the standard coriander seeds and cloves – most supermarkets seem to carry it but if you can’t get it, you could use a generic curry or tagine paste to similar effect. I like the Alfez brand, and Waitrose’s is pretty good too (though I haven’t tried many!).
For the dressing
Preheat the oven to 180°C. In a large baking tray, evenly coat the carrots in a tablespoon of the oil and spices and roast for about half an hour until the carrots are tender – if it looks or smells like the spices might burn before the carrots cook, you can cover them with foil to protect them from the heat. While they cook, prepare the dressing.
In a small bowl, combine the tahini and lemon juice together with a pinch of salt. At first, the mix will thicken and become pale and stiff (I was using whole tahini which has a darker colour, so yours will likely be paler); however, when you continue stirring, the mixture will loosen slightly and take on a glossier appearance. Add a little water to thin the dressing down to the consistency you desire, then adjust the seasoning with a little salt. If you put in too much water, you can add more tahini to restore the balance.
Once the carrots have roasted and are tender, remove from the oven and warm the chick peas in the remaining oil before assembling the salad (If you wanted to roast the carrots ahead of time, you can simply warm them back up with the chick peas). Layer the carrots on top of the chickpeas, surrounded by a few dollops of ricotta and the tahini dressing and a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds. Serves 4.