Carrot salads have always seemed like sturdy, familiar pot-luck work-horses, but this shaved carrot salad is just a wee bit more elegant. There’s something so alluring about a tangled mess of carrot ribbons tossed with meaty olives and crunchy pistachios. Try this shaved carrot salad paired with anything from summer veggie skewers to hearty braised dishes!
Step aside, grated carrots. Ribboned carrots are stealing your thunder!
Sometimes a chopped salad or grated salad is absolutely ideal. The finer texture packs well, gets thoroughly coated in the dressing, and is easy to scoop up with whatever utensil you have on hand. You can stuff them in flatbreads or even fold them into a pile of beans or grains when trying to feed a crowd.
But. Are they elegant? Not really, no. And while I’m all for comfortable, feel-good food, sometimes the small textures of chopped veggies or grated veggies just feel like eating…mulch. The flavors and textures are so well-distributed that each bite is identical to the last. That can get boring. So when the occasion calls for a little bit more thought and interest, I reach for my trusty Y-peeler and make this shaved carrot salad!
Ribbons of carrot aren't just beautiful, they improve the flavor!
Carrots have a lot of natural sweetness, but the way you prepare them can enhance both the sweetness and their “carroty-ness.” You probably have noticed the difference between a roasted carrot and a raw carrot. The roasting breaks down the sugars and caramelizes them, deepening and sweetening their flavor.
The way you cut your carrots can have a similar effect. When you cut a vegetable or fruit, you are breaking their cells, which releases things like sugars and aromatic compounds. Think about slicing ribbons of fresh basil: a sharp knife makes neat ribbons that stay bright green for longer. A dull knife bruises the delicate leaves, making cuts that are more jagged and quickly turning the leaves black.
While you don’t want that bruising effect for something as delicate as fresh herbs, tougher plants actually benefit. That’s why you might have seen stalks of lemongrass or pieces of ginger smacked with a knife before being added to a stock pot. It releases more flavor!
A lot of carrot salad recipes call for coarsely grating the carrots, which releases a ton of flavor. By cutting ribbons of carrot, you’re still releasing a lot of those trapped flavor compounds, but not only is the finished dish prettier, it stays away from the mulchy texture that grated carrot can have. And, a quick spin in a skillet not only blooms the spices and mellows the garlic, but it lightly tenderizes the carrot and coaxes out a bit of extra carroty-sweetness!
Say goodbye to too-sweet carrot salad. This recipe is perfectly savory and bright!
A lot of carrot salads lean heavily on very sweet flavors. Raisins, cinnamon, maple syrup… All these ingredients do taste lovely together, but I often find myself wishing for a salad that is a little bit less cloying.
For this recipe, I was still heavily influenced by the warming spices and subtle sweetness of classic carrot salads, but I wanted to focus more on salty and herbaceous pops of flavor. The combination of cumin, allspice, and garlic is one you’ll see me use a lot. (For example, in my mussakhan-inspired savory sumac mushrooms!) To me, it’s the perfect combination of savory-earthy and deeply warming. While I have chosen to omit any cinnamon, you can certainly add in a pinch if you find yourself missing it.
My favorite mouthfuls of carrot salad are the ones with briny ingredients like olives or feta. I’m also a sucker for roasted pistachios. While the recipe doesn’t call for feta (to keep it vegan), it’s packed full of meaty, salty olives and crunchy-savory toasted pistachios. They add oodles of flavor and a fabulous textural oomph!
And finally, the herbs. For me, a base of parsley is a must. To round that base out, I favor the bright, slightly sweet aroma of fresh mint. I love the way it plays with the natural sweetness of the carrot and the savory warmth of the spices. If you’re not a fan of mint, try cilantro, or even tarragon, instead.
Notes for Success:
When cooking the ribbons of carrot, keep in mind that you want them to retain a toothsome texture. Warming and wilting them coaxes out a bit of extra carrot-oomph, but the goal is not to make them fully soft. When in doubt, take a little taste. They should be firm to bite, but without the raw carrot woody crunch.
As mentioned above, the flavors of this salad favor the salty-nutty family. If you prefer a bit more sweetness, try plumping a few tablespoons of dried currants or raisins in some warm water or extra lemon juice.
If your carrots are extra long, I suggest cutting the ribbons in half crosswise. Or, start peeling each ribbon from the middle of the carrot, holding on to the top half as you peel and rotate the bottom half. Once you’ve reach the woody core, flip the carrot and hold onto the core as you peel the remaining half of the carrot. This is my preferred method, since confronting a tangled mess of extra-long carrot ribbons can be annoying.
Shaved Carrot Salad with Olives and Fresh Herbs
- 2 to 3 (~12 ounces) large carrots, peeled
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium garlic clove, minced
- ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
- ⅛ teaspoon ground allspice
- Kosher salt and black pepper
- ½ cup mixed pitted olives, chopped
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice, plus wedges to serve
- 1-2 teaspoons honey or maple syrup
- 2 tablespoons lightly packed chopped parsley
- 2 tablespoons lightly packed chopped fresh mint
- ¼ cup chopped toasted nuts (Such as pistachios, cashews, peanuts, or almonds)
- Sesame seeds, to garnish (Optional)
- Step 1Using a Y style peeler or a mandoline, shave the carrots down their lengths, creating thin ribbons. Rotate as you go for the most even shape, stopping when you reach the woody core. Discard the leftover cores, or save them for a snack or homemade stock.
- Step 2In a large skillet, combine the oil, garlic, cumin, and allspice. Heat over medium until the garlic is beginning to sizzle, then add the carrots. Cook briefly, stirring and folding constantly, until the carrots have begun to wilt, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon black pepper. Fold in the olives, lemon juice, and honey. Let sit until about room temperature, about 10 to 15 minutes. Fold in the herbs and chopped nuts. Taste and adjust sweetness with an extra drizzle of honey, if needed. Serve sprinkled with sesame seeds (optional).