Moroccan Carrot Salad with Sesame Lamb Meatballs and Couscous

Things have been pretty low-key around here lately. After my short escape to 80-degree weather and sunshine, the return to this seemingly non-ending winter has re-dampened my spirits a little bit. What little tan I obtained lasted all of about 3 days and already I’ve slipped back into the normal daily routine following that post-vacation high.

I’ve been finding ways to keep my mind and my hands busy though, other than using them to repeatedly place dark chocolate Cadbury mini-eggs in my mouth.  I’m finally starting to make use of that gym membership I signed up for over a month ago and last weekend my roommates and I hosted a small brunch gathering complete with sourdough waffles, sweet potato frittata, plenty of bacon, mimosas, and a day long marathon of Survivor reruns. I also saw The Grand Budapest Hotel and was more than satisfied with Wes Anderson’s newest bizarre yet brilliant creation. And throughout it all I’ve been eating lots of Moroccan food.

When it comes to comforting food, I rank those with loads of warm spices among the likes of all things cheesy, brothy, and carby.  For me, the flavors of Morocco, Greece, and India are some of the most inviting and throughout the last few years I have been striving to expand my repertoire of spice knowledge and ethnic cooking, mainly because I just love it so much. This past week I combined a few Moroccan inspired recipes and came up with these awesome carrot salad and lamb meatball bowls. Carrots are cooked until soft, mashed, and doused with a lemony cumin dressing. They’re piled over a mound of buttered couscous and topped with olives, scallions, feta, and preserved lemon. Finally, little sesame lamb meatballs are placed alongside. It was as excellent as leftovers as it was the night I made it and was the perfect companion to a glass of wine on a snowy evening.

Moroccan Carrot Salad with Lamb Meatballs and Couscous
Salad adapted from David Tanis’ One Good Dish
Meatballs adapted from Deb Perelman’s The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook
Serves 4

Please note that, although optional, the preserved lemon really makes this dish. It’s a little hard to find and a bit unkind to the wallet but I definitely think it’s worth the effort to find some.

For The Salad
2 lbs. Carrots, peeled
½ tsp. ground cumin
½ tsp. ground coriander
3 Tbs. lemon juice
½ tsp. finely chopped garlic
1 tsp. grated ginger
pinch of cayenne
salt and pepper
¼ cup olive oil
4 oz. feta cheese
1 small preserved lemon – rinse, remove the pulp, and finely dice the rind
2 scallions, chopped
a large handful of kalamata olives chopped

For The Meatballs
1 lb. ground lamb
2/3 cup fresh breadcrumbs
¼ cup water
1 tsp. salt
1 large egg
2 cloves of garlic, minced
½ tsp. ground cumin
½ tsp. ground coriander
½ tsp. smoked paprika
a large pinch of red pepper flakes
2 Tbs. sesame seeds, toasted

To Serve
1 cup couscous, cooked according to package instructions
1 Tbs. butter

Place the carrots in a large pot of salted water. Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer and cook until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain, and let cool for about 10 minutes. To make the dressing, combine the cumin, coriander, lemon juice, garlic, ginger, cayenne, and salt & pepper in a small dish. Whisk in the olive oil. Use a potato masher or a fork to roughly mash the carrots. Pour over the dressing and stir to combine. Taste and add salt if needed. Sprinkle over the feta, preserved lemon, scallions, and olives.

While the carrots cook, start making the meatballs. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line a large sheet pan with parchment paper. Combine all of the meatball ingredients in a large bowl and use a fork/your hands to mix everything together until evenly combined. Do not overmix. Divide the mixture into quarters and make four meatballs out of each quarter for a total of 16 meatballs. Place them on the baking sheet and bake in the oven for about 13-15 minutes until the internal temp. is 160-165 degrees.

Make your couscous and once cooked, add in the butter and toss until melted and mixed. Divide the couscous amongst 4 bowls, followed by the carrot salad. Finish each bowl with 4 meatballs per person.

Roasted Carrot Salad

Well, I’m going to be straight with you right now. When the ball dropped and the New Year arrived, I was one of those people. Yes, one of the many who woke up on New Year’s Day, opened the refrigerator, and gazed upon the entirety on my next two days’ meals lined up in neat, multicolored rows of bottled, organic, detox juice. I abandoned my beloved jammy toast for a bottle of liquid celery and romaine lettuce. Mmmmm…breakfast.

So, was it worth it?

I’m not quite sure actually. I didn’t really wake up at the end up it all feeling like I had a glowing sparkly aura around my body. Perhaps I had a little more energy but I also had a nasty cold at the time so that marred the results a bit. I think that the greatest benefit was gaining awareness of so much mindless snacking. While detoxing, I would walk through the kitchen and make the motion to grab a handful of cereal or stick my finger into the peanut butter jar a spoonful of peanut butter before stopping myself in the act of sheer bad habit.

Also, post-detox, I eased myself back onto solid foods and stuck to mostly vegetables, fruits, ancient grains, and nuts before adding gluten, meat, and cow dairy. And it was with this stage of the process that I gained the most realization…I really missed vegetables. A lot. Working at a restaurant for 8 months, I was on a steady diet of bread and more bread with minimal green foods. At college, I used to have so much fun making up these funky, unique salads of sorts with fresh market product and it all kind of stopped in that “newly graduated” stage of life. So maybe it was something in the juice, but all the sudden I found myself pulling a new salad-y recipe from a long-neglected portion of my brain and came up with a dish that really did make me feel all sparkly and cleansed like I had hoped.

This one takes a slight nod from a roasted beet and crunchy radish salad I had at Arbutus Restaurant in London. Instead, I brought in the earthy sweetness from roasted rainbow carrots and offset it with the slight pepperiness and crispness of red cabbage. The strage part is that I roasted the cabbage. I’ve never done this before – it was kind of a spur of the moment decision – but it resulted in something that was completely unexpected and delightful. Who new that roasting ribbons of cabbage makes for a mixture that is simultaneously tender and sweet but also savory and chip-like? Trust me, you’ll be fighting others off to get the crunchy burnt pieces. The sprinkle of pistachios and goat cheese adds yet another contrasting dimension of sweet, salty, and tangy and the vinaigrette just ties it all together.

So, if the juice detox was the cause of the creation of this salad, I suppose I can say it was worth it. Otherwise, eh, I’m not totally convinced; my general consensus is that I just had two days where I peed a whole lot more than normal and had a flatter stomach for about 24 hours. I mean, sure it was nice to rid myself of accumulated crap at the beginning of the year but I think for the rest of the year, I’ll stick to plain and simple veg and tasty salads, thank you very much.

Roasted Carrot Salad for One
5-6 rainbow carrots, washed and halved lengthwise
¼ head of red cabbage, core removed and cut into ¼ inch ribbons
1 Tbs. olive oil
red pepper flakes (optional)
1 Tbs. roasted salted pistachios
goat cheese
salt and pepper
champagne vinaigrette

(I don’t have an exact recipe but find that the best vinaigrette is 3 parts olive oil, 1 part vinegar, and a small amount of Dijon mustard, honey or any other sweetener that you like, salt, and pepper, to taste. Whisk to combine.)

Preheat the oven on 450 degrees. Toss the carrots with ½ Tbs of the olive oil, salt, pepper, and a pinch of red pepper flakes and lay them evenly on a baking sheet. In a bowl, toss the cabbage with the remaining olive oil, salt and pepper, and use your hands to coat all of the cabbage evenly with the oil. Set aside. Place in the baking sheet with the carrots in the oven for ten minutes. Remove and add the cabbage to the same pan along with the carrots. Place back in the oven for 15 minutes, occasionally flipping the carrots and stirring the cabbage until both are crisp tender.

Arrange the cabbage and carrots on a plate. Sprinkle the pistachios and as much goat cheese as you desire overtop. Finish with a drizzle of your vinaigrette. 

Corn for the Gold

It’s amazing to consider the epic change that occurs amongst the world’s inhabitants every two years. Suddenly people like me, who don’t outwardly show much pride in their country on a normal daily basis, are standing in front of their television, pumping their fists, and shouting Go! Go! GO! USA! USA! Suddenly I don’t mind watching sports in the least bit; I actually enjoy it and take the time to really appreciate and admire the skills and extraordinary physical fitness of the athletes, our real-life action superheroes. And suddenly, fun stories like these arrive on the Internet.

I’ve been slightly bitter about the Olympics this time around, however. The incessant and ever-constant images of London, my second home, on the TV screen bring out this intense yearning that pulls at my very heartstrings. I’m unnecessarily jealous of all of the American tourists that are there while I am not. Though I know it is currently a very different London right now than I probably remember, I’d do anything to be there all the same. Yet despite my affections for the host country, I am still automatically rooting hard-core for the American athletes and getting slightly emotional whenever they play our national anthem at a medals ceremony. What can I say; the Olympics bring out different sides of people.

For example, they make me want to do things like work out more (though I think that applies to everyone) or take up hobbies like archery or skeet shooting. Also, counterproductive to the previously mentioned urges, they really make me want American food, as if summer didn’t already create that craving. So to embrace these few weeks of hyper-Americanism, I am cooking and eating in the fashion of the US of A. It’s BLT’s for lunch, burgers for dinner, and a craving for all things barbeque. And of course you can’t have American cuisine with out the summer favorite, those golden ears of milky and juicy sweet corn.

Just last week I had grilled corn for the first time ever. I placed the ear or corn on my plate, not thinking twice about the blistered and blackened kernels, freckling the cob with a gap-toothed grin. The remaining kernels, on second thought, looked different too. Were they deeper yellow than I remembered, a glistening golden hue almost shimmering like the light of sunset?  One bite was enough to inform me that this corn was on a totally different playing field than its boiled or steamed alternative. Grilling corn somehow intensifies the flavor by a tenfold. It’s sweeter, but not overwhelming; it’s a sophisticated sweet. It’s like caramel that has been cooked to the point right before it begins to burn where it becomes concentrated and smoky. The individual kernels swell with steam and boiling juices so that this caramelized liquid bursts the moment it hits the impact of the teeth. I unashamedly sucked the juices from the empty cobs to savor every bit of the new and mind-blowing flavor. From now on, it’s so long to boiled corn. Grilling is my method of choice now.

Its amazing how roasting and grilling, that high heat and that little bit of fire and smoke, can turn what may be a perfectly delicious vegetable or fruit into something that just simply goes above and beyond. It creates the Olympic athletes of food, with flavor that, like the athlete’s skills, seem almost beyond possibility. And it may just me my own opinion, but I think that grilled corn gets the gold every time.

Grilled Corn (and an optional salad preparation)
3 ears of corn with husks attached

for roasted corn and goat cheese salad
(serves two)
corn cut from the 3 ears
2 Tbs. softened butter
salt and pepper
¼-½ tsp of cumin
zest of half a lime
½ cup cherry or pear tomatoes, halved
¼ cup goat cheese
½ cup dry spelt or other grain of choice, cooked according to package instructions
a handful of arugula
juice of half a lime

Soak the corn in water for about 15 minutes. Then after taking them out and shaking them dry, carefully peel back the husk of the corn down to the bottom so that they remain intact and pull off the inner silks. Brush the corn with a little olive oil and pull the husks back up. Place the corn onto a preheated grill with a medium flame. Cook for 15-20 minutes, turning occasionally. While the corn cooks combine the butter, salt, pepper, desired amount of cumin, and lime zest in a bowl and mash into a paste.

Once the corn is cooked, remove from the grill and place onto a platter. Carefully peel back the husks and brush the butter mixture onto the hot corn. You can also place the naked corn back onto the grill for a few more minutes if you want more caramelization. Remove the husks completely and then cut off the kernels of the corn into a bowl. Add the tomatoes, goat cheese, grains, arugula, and lime juice to the bowl and toss to combine. Add any additional salt and pepper to taste.

End of Winter Salad

Six months ago I wrote this, my farewell to summer, optimistic with the prospects of fall activities: football, winter squash, changing leaves, but so sad to leave the fresh vegetables and fruits of summer. I am truly a summer being, a warm-blooded, July-born Leo, and need the sunshine to function on a normal level. That salad was hard to let go. But we’ve made it through with a surprising and wonderfully mild winter. Not once did I break out the snow shovel, not once did our school cancel classes. It was a winter that required merely an extra blanket and a mug of hot chocolate to get through.

Spring came two days ago with a bang, literally. After aweek of nearly 80 degree weather, Mother Nature brought us the new season by means of an almost rite of passage. By 4:00 the winds picked up. By 5:00 the sky grew dark. At 6:00 flashes flickered in the distance and low rumbles murmured through the heavens. I sat on the floor in the kitchen, face peering out the open window and watched the storm unwind. It’s almost a magical moment when you hear the very first raindrop, a resolute patter on the grass that then, in less than a minute, it accelerates to a full-on shower. The storm progressed and just when I thought is was beginning to pass, it happened. A lightening bolt struck literally feet away from our house accompanied by an earth-shattering boom. Surges of electricity pulsated through me and every hairstood up on the back of my neck. It was absolutely frightening and exhilarating and a jolting burst into spring.

So to accompany my end of summer salad I bring you this end of winter salad I concocted last weekend. It’s refreshing yet still hearty, the sort of dish that I don’t think I would mind eating every day. A simple composition of cooked farro and wild rice, tossed with some lemon and oil, and topped with steamed farmer’s market kale, roasted butternut squash, spiced, honeyed walnuts, and a smattering of manchego cheese. It goes well with a glass of iced tea, open windows, cool breezes, and the sounds of chirping birds. I can find no other word for it that just plain lovely. It would be great for a picnic (just pack the walnuts separately and sprinkle on top before eating) but was nice for a special lunch alone too. Though this celebrated some of the last of the wintery foods, the bright kale and citrusy flavors bring with it signs of more gorgeous, sunny weather to come. Hello spring!

End of Winter Salad
Serves 2-3
adapted significantly from this recipe

I can’t wait to try this with more spring-like variations (asparagus, peas, pancetta, and pine nuts would be delicious) but almost any substitution could work. It is very versatile. Also, if you have any leftover grains, be sure to make this. The proportions of this salad and vinaigrette arenot really exact, absolute recipes. Assemble it according to your tastes and proportional preferences and you’ll be happy no matter what.

4 cups cooked whole grains (I used a combination of wild rice and farro. Look to packaging for cooking instructions. I also added a bay leaf to the cooking water for a bit of flavor)
1 butternut squash, peeled and cubed
olive oil
a big bunch of kale, washed and removed from thick stems
manchego cheese slices
salt and pepper

for walnuts
½ cup walnut halves
2 Tbs. honey
¼ tsp ground turmeric
pinch of cayenne
pinch of salt
a dash of water

for vinaigrette
½ lemon, juiced
3 Tbs. olive oil
a squeeze of honey
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and start by cooking the butternut squash. Toss it with a little olive oil, salt and pepper and place it on a parchment lined baking sheet. Pop it in the oven for around 30 minutes.

While that cooks prepare the vinaigrette in a bowl. Combine all of the ingredients and whisk until smooth. Also begin to prepare the walnuts by mixing the honey turmeric, cayenne, and salt in a bowl. Add enough water to make a runny paste. Set aside. When there are 10 minutes left for the squash, add the walnuts to the honey mixture, stir to coat them completely, and add them to the pan with the butternut squash off to one side, spreading them in an even layer. Return the pan to the oven until the walnuts are bubbling in the honey syrup and turning golden. While the squash and walnuts finish up, steam the kale in apot with a steamer basket.

Remove the sheet pan from the oven and set aside to cool for a moment. This will let the sugars on the walnuts set and turn crispy. To assemble the salad, add the kale and butternut squash to the grains. Pour overthe dressing and gently toss to combine. Taste and add salt or pepper as needed. Top with the walnuts and some shavings of the manchego cheese.

My Attempt to Embrace Winter

I’ll be honest, I really, really don’t like winter. I know that we are supposed to make the most with what each season gives but that is oh so hard when all I want to do is wear sweatpants and ten layers of sweaters and hibernate under a pile of blankets until daylight savings. I’ve been sleeping in a lot lately too, which is something I really don’t like. Generally my eyes enthusiastically burst open at the crack of dawn and by 6:30 I’ve showered and have a hearty breakfast in the works. Now it’s just a never-ending series of snooze-button pressings until the sheer embarrassment that I’m still in bed at 8:00 forces me into a wobbly standing position. Like I said, I really don’t like winter.

Over the weekend I went to the farmers market for the first time since mid-December. With memories of Christmas cheer, the hustle and the bustle to stock up on handmade crafts and Brussels sprouts stalks for the holiday table, I set out in the hopes of perhaps snagging some winter greens ore maybe even some pretty purple cauliflower. However, I arrived and saw almost nothing but mounds of potatoes and turnips. Not that there is necessarily anything wrong with those items but at this point in winter, I am getting just a wee bit sick of potatoes. At this point, I just want a little freshness. 

Even the tiniest of hints.

I’m not asking for a sun-ripened tomato here, just something to let me know that the sun will be back around soon.


So after a miniature sulking session I decided that I would not give up. I would embrace winter, work alongside and maybe, just maybe, we could get through this thing together. With a little stroke of inspiration I scrounged up a hodgepodge of ingredients and concocted a winter salad that was able to bring some life back to my palette.

It’s a menagerie of root veg, oranges, salty olives, crunchy celery, and rich avocado, tossed atop a bed of quinoa and dressed with refreshing citrus vinaigrette. It’s invigorating in flavor the way the saltiness and sweetness seem to complement each other so well. You eat it thinking that it’s almost so wrong that it is totally and completely right. Olives and oranges? How would that work…trust me, it does.

If anything, this salad can at least bring a little brightness to the day just from its sheer autumnal and jewel toned hues: deep burgundy contrasted by the neon orange of the tangelo and rounded out with the limey pop of green from the avocado. Finally, a flurry of white goat’s cheese like a dusting of snow finished it off. This would be just as great on regular quinoa but the red quinoa seemed to enhance the “winter salad” feel. It comes together in as long as it takes to cook the quinoa and certainly is a nice break from all those potatoes.

Winter Quinoa Salad
serves 2-4
A few notes on the ingredients…as much as I would like to say that I roasted my own beets, I was too lazy. Plus, the ones at the grocery store looked a little sad. Instead I used these organic vacuum-sealed beets and actually found their flavor to be quite comparable to fresh. Good to know. I also used Minneola tangelos for their tart grapefruity flavor but navel oranges or even blood oranges would be fine. Finally, if you want to make this ahead of time, toss the quinoa, beets, oranges, olives, and celery with the vinaigrette and refrigerate and wait until serving to top with the avocado and goat cheese. It tastes best at room temperature.

1 cup quinoa, rinsed
5 baby beets, sliced (if you are cooking fresh beets here are cooking instructions)
2 Minneola tangelo oranges, zested, segmented, and juices reserved
¼ cup kalamata olives, quartered
1 rib celery, diced
½ avocado, diced
goat cheese crumbles, to serve

for vinaigrette
¼ cup fresh orange juice, reserved from oranges
¼ tsp orange zest
1 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
salt and pepper

Prepare the quinoa according to the package instructions. While that is cooking, prepare the beets, oranges, olives, celery, avocado, and goat cheese and set aside. In a small bowl, combine the dressing ingredients and whisk until combined.

When the quinoa is finished, pour it into a bowl and let sit for about 5 minutes to cool some. Add about ¾ of the dressing ad toss to combine. Add the beets, orange segments, olives and celery and mix. Spoon into serving bowls and top with the avocado and the goat cheese and a drizzle of the remaining dressing.