Carrot Salad with Harissa, Feta and Mint

by Susan on September 7, 2010

My friend and I have a running joke about the traditional carrot salad her mother-in-law often prepares for family gatherings. You know the one – its got raisins, apples, honey, maybe chunks of pineapple, and some mayo. For whatever reason, the traditional version negates all that the humble carrot has to offer – crunch, color, healthfulness, and a hint of sweetness – by drowning it in sugary and fat-laden ingredients. Apparently some traditions are meant to be broken.

This summer we gobbled up this new generation of carrot salad with everything from lobster rolls to grilled chicken and ahi sandwiches. It always held its own. It always received praise (Who knew carrot salad could be so good!). The recipe was often requested.

You might look at the recipe and scratch your head, wondering if all those flavors – harissa, cumin, caraway, mint, parsley, and feta – really go together. They don’t just go together, but actually conspire into something complex, surprising, and slightly addictive.

There’s the heat of the harissa and cayenne. The cool of the feta. There’s the punch of the cumin. The sweet and crunch of the carrots. There’s the freshness of the chopped herbs. The colors pop as much as the flavors – a bright melange of orange, green, and white.

This is not your mother-in-law’s carrot salad!

Carrot Salad with Harissa, Feta and Mint
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, who adapted it from a reader

Note: I have always doubled this to serve 4-6 people. It can be made a day ahead and keeps great in the fridge for a few days.

3/4 pound carrots, peeled, trimmed and coarsely grated
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 minced clove of garlic
1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon Hungarian paprika
3/4 teaspoon harissa (you should be able to find it at Whole Foods-type store)
1/2 teaspoon sugar
cayenne, to taste
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh mint, finely chopped
100 grams feta, crumbled or chopped into bits

In a small sauté pan, cook the garlic, caraway, cumin, paprika, harissa and sugar in the oil until fragrant, about one to two minutes. Remove from heat and add the lemon juice and a pinch of salt. Pour over the carrots and mix. Add the herbs and mix. Add cayenne to taste. Leave to infuse for an hour (less is okay too) and add the feta before eating. Serve cold or at room temperature.

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