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Until recently, the best meal of my life was a late summer dinner on a pier on Puget Sound in Seattle.
My husband and I drank chilled white wine from big, balloon-shaped glasses and ate king crab that had been beautifully cooked, deconstructed and served for easy access to all its most beautiful, tender, sweet bits. We lingered over dinner, enjoying every bite as well as the view, the sun, the gentle, cooling breeze, the conversation and the music of the horns of the ferry boats as they came and went.
But that meal just may have been bumped by a dinner prepared and enjoyed with friends on a much more recent late summer evening on a picturesque Maine lake.
Myrna prepared her astonishingly delicious asparagus risotto, of which I previously have written. I steamed some Early Golden Crookneck squash from my garden and served it with butter, salt and pepper. Charlotte made a Moroccan Carrot Salad, a sweet, tart, fresh salad fragrant with spices. Completing the plate was a pile of baby greens, chopped heirloom tomato, freshly picked cucumber and crumbled blue cheese, dressed with balsamic vinaigrette.
The buttery richness of the summer squash and the creamy, cheesy, risotto were offset perfectly by the fresh tang of the green salad, but for me it was the Moroccan Carrot Salad that brought the plate together.
In this salad, fresh, sweet, bright orange carrot shreds, golden raisins and roasted, unsalted pistachios are dressed with lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, and just the right amount of cumin, sharp (or half-sharp) paprika and cinnamon to give the salad a subtle, floral, almost unidentifiable spice that you nearly smell more than taste. It’s a really lovely, light, interesting salad that is almost a slaw, and could be served with anything from pulled pork to fried chicken. It could be added to a fish taco or piled on top of a hot dog.
Certainly the best meal of your life can be just as much about the place where you eat and the people with whom you share the experience as it is about the food. Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether it’s the view, the camaraderie or the cinnamon that’s making it all taste so very good.
Charlotte’s Moroccan Carrot Salad
4 tablespoons good olive oil
3 tablespoons lemon juice (from one lemon)
2 garlic cloves, mashed to a paste (or mince fine)
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon sharp paprika (I used half-sharp)
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pepper and fine sea salt to taste
1½ pounds carrots, peeled and grated
¼ cup (or a bit more) shelled, dry roasted, unsalted pistachios, chopped
¼ cup fresh cilantro leaves (see Note)
¼ cup golden raisins
In a medium bowl, whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, cumin, paprika and cinnamon. Season with salt and pepper.
Add carrots, nuts, cilantro and raisins to dressing. Toss, cover and chill. Serves four easily. Keeps well.
Note: Cilantro inspires a lot of strong feelings. If you’re dining with some cilantro haters, leave it out or substitute flat-leaf parsley. If you use cilantro and you’re making the salad ahead, add the cilantro the day of serving, so it stays green.
Jill Blanchette works at night at The Day. Share comments or recipes with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.