The inspiration for this dish comes from the very excellent #Cook For Syria recipe collection. All the recipes have been donated – and the donors include a stellar selection, including Jamie Oliver, Jack Munroe, Deliciously Ella, Skye Gyngell, Symmetry Breakfast…and, of course, Yotam Ottolenghi. If that isn’t enough temptation to buy the book (which has some gorgeous photographs, and is beautifully produced), all profits go to UNICEF’s Children of Syria Fund – a very appropriate and deserving cause.
This particular recipe was donated by Nicholas Balfe, Founder and Head Chef of Salon Brixton. I tried it out one evening as a starter when we had some vegetarian friends coming for dinner. They got the day wrong, so the Chief Taster and I ended up eating this in solitary splendour.
This wasn’t such a bad thing as we were able to really concentrate on it and enjoy it. We both thought it, for different reasons, sublime. The Chief Taster reckoned this dish was made by the tangy yoghurt-tahini sauce, whereas I agreed with Balfe, who explained in his introduction that he’d candied the sesame seeds ‘for extra crunch, and to make the flavour pop’.
I really think the inclusion of the caramelised sesame seeds was a touch of genius…. but I also think my idea of simply crushing sesame snaps (if not in a supermarket – Waitrose does them – you can buy these at any newsagents) instead of going to all the fuss of making it (I always burn my caramel) shows a certain brilliance on my part!
I’ve made a number of other amendments – mostly quantities and short-cuts – so as to make this an impressive starter which can be quickly made by an amateur in a hurry. However, even if you are an amateur, it will still look very professional, and the candied sesame makes it original and different. If you are a chef, you will put your own spin on the thing, and it will be a winner.
Incidentally, we had, needless to say, a lot left over – the carrots heated up fine a few days later.
Crunchy. creamy, carrot starter
Serves 8 as a starter
- 800g/1 lb 5 oz organic bunched carrots (you want the thin, natural-looking type of carrot, with stems and leaves still attached – in an ideal world find multicoloured ones). Don’t be tempted to buy non-organic, those don’t really taste of carrot. If you do have to buy jumbo, fat carrots, cut them into quarters lengthways.
- 4 cloves of garlic, simply crushed, skin still on, pretty much whole; and 2 cloves of garlic, crushed with 1 tsp sea salt
- Three or four sprigs of a woody herb – rosemary or thyme
- 240 ml/1 cup Greek yoghurt
- 2 tsps tahini paste
- Juice and zest of half a lemon
- 210g/7 oz sesame snaps (buy two packs of 4 x 30g packets, and enjoy the eighth one yourself later as a reward)
- 2 tsps sea salt – I would use Maldon
- ½ tsp Aleppo pepper – or Byadgi chilli
- ½ tsp sumac
- olive oil for frying
- Preheat the oven to 180°C.
- Cut off the green feathery leaves (leave about ½”/1 cm stem still on the carrot), and put to one side.
- Wash the carrots and scrap off any discoloured bits. If you have giant, fat carrots (heaven forfend, but it has been known), cut them into quarters lengthways.
- Put them in a roasting tin, pour over some olive oil, stir to cover, throw in the whole crushed garlic and the sprigs of woody herbs.
- Put in the oven and roast for about twenty minutes.
- Mix the yoghurt, the crushed garlic, the tahini paste. Zest the lemon and drop onto the carrots (you can take them out of the oven, drop over the zest, give a good stir, turning over if possible in the oil, and return to the oven).
- Add the juice of the lemon to the yoghurt sauce, stir in well.
- Put the sesame snap biscuits into a freezer bag together with the sea salt, and bash with a rolling pin.
- When the carrots are done, take them out and toss with the Aleppo pepper and the sumac.
- Serve the carrots, artistically, with a few carrot top fronds; the crushed, caramelised sesame seeds; and the wonderful, creamy, yoghurt-tahini sauce in the centre.
To learn more about Aleppo pepper, follow this link.
The Orchestra of Syrian Musicians, 25 June 2016, Royal Festival Hall, London