This salad is all about texture. It takes a vegetable that many of us always have lying around in the fridge- the humble and ubiquitous little carrot- and transforms it into something a little unexpected. Instead of finely grating it or slicing it into coins, I have used a vegetable peeler to create long fettuccine like carrot noodles. A light lemony, herby, and spiced olive oil dressing coats the noodles, allowing them to wilt just ever so slightly. As you twirl the vegetables around your fork, the lentils and almonds cling on, providing just the right amount of nuttiness and earthiness to each bite.
To create the flavor of the dressing, I was inspired by one of my favorite sandwich shops in Chapel Hill, NC called Sandwhich. My favorite sandwich to order was the Mr. Crunch, a lovely prosciutto and mozzarella sandwich with a zingy lemon and oregano olive oil dressing and fresh mint served on a baguette. One of the highlights, however, was the mini cup of gorgeous sliced Moroccan pickled carrots that came with every meal. The carrots were tangy, minty, with a hint of earthy spice. This flavor profile may have been surprising to find at a little sandwich shop in North Carolina if it had not been for the fact that the chef-owner was indeed Moroccan.
I tried recreating a version of those carrots, borrowing from flavors of Morocco. I included lemon, cumin, cinnamon, almonds, fresh mint, and a little drizzle of pomegranate molasses, which is both tart and sweet and which lends a subtle depth to the dressing. Honey would make a wonderful substitute. I added beluga lentils, a sturdier, more robust lentil for a little extra protein and for the gorgeous contrast they create with the long, skinny carrots. The way the carrots are shaved here is nothing new, but it is a little unexpected. I think I first saw the idea at Gourmande in the Kitchen in Sylvie's Raw Kale, Cabbage and Carrot Chopped Salad with Maple Sesame Vinaigrette. It also takes a little more patience to shave carrots like this rather than just slicing or grating, but the results are worth it.
This salad gets better with a little time as the flavors meld and the carrots soften just a bit. Just be sure to toss in the almonds right before serving because their crunch is most satisfying. I also have a few serving suggestions. I found that this salad paired very well with goat cheese and with avocado. Toss in a few goat cheese crumbles and avocado hunks before serving. Or pair with goat cheese toasts on the side for your first course. If you are having a spring get-together, serve the salad atop baguette slices smeared with goat cheese for a beautiful spring appetizer.
Shaved Carrot Salad with Beluga Lentils and Toasted Almonds
1/2 c. beluga lentils, rinsed
1/4 c. raw almonds
1 lb. carrots, washed and peeled
1/2 t. ground cumin
1/8 t. ground cinnamon
1/2 t. salt
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1 t. pomegranate molasses or honey
2 T. extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 c. fresh mint, washed, dried and chopped
1/4 c. fresh Italian parsley, washed, dried and chopped
Begin with the lentils. Place the lentils in a small pot and cover with water by 1-2 inches. Bring the water to a boil and then reduce to a simmer, cooking for 15-18 minutes uncovered or until lentils are tender but not mushy. Drain and set aside.
Meanwhile, toast the almonds. Place the almonds in a skillet over medium- low heat and toast for 8-10 minutes or until almonds are toasted, shaking pan often. Remove from heat, cool slightly, and roughly chop. Set aside.
Shave the carrots into a bowl using a vegetable peeler. I find it easiest to shave from the top to the bottom first as you rotate the carrot and then flip the carrot upside down and continue the process. I found I was able to shave the most carrots this way.
Make the vinaigrette. Combine the cumin, cinnamon, salt, lemon zest and juice, pomegranate molasses, and extra-virgin olive oil in a bowl and whisk until combined.
In a bowl, combine the carrots, lentils, mint, parsley, and dressing, and toss to combine. Taste to adjust for salt. Toss in the almonds right before serving. Enjoy! Serves 4.