Once I received advice to copy if need be. I can't remember who said it and if they were even a credible source, but the message I took away was simple: when in doubt, look for inspiration, look for what works, what has, not what doesn't and hasn't. And remember what does. In cooking language, that can be translated to: look to Jean-Georges Vongerichten.
This salad is inspired by one on the menu at the elegant and green ABC Kitchen. I have not yet dined there (soon!), but I've browsed the menu and photos and all that jazz and realized I could easily live on the appetizers section alone. Fried eggs, greens galore, various squashes, grains, pairings, etc.
Last year I had the luck to stand next to JGV himself and his assistant when I was kitchen-assisting (way below the level of the JGV assistant) at a big long night of a catering event last year. I had no idea that it would be an amalgamation of tons of top chefs crammed into the makeshift-ness that is the "onsite" kitchen experience in catering, plating samples for important people-- I just thought it was another night of pinching thyme for the dollar. But when I arrived I was asked to, by JGV's charming and calm French-speaking assistant (and I'm not joking when I say he was a doppel of this guy ), after getting dishes washed, scrape at the bone of a rib for while feeling very scared I was doing it wrong.
After a few hours of prep like that, JGV whisked into the kitchen like lightning, checked on everything and took up an actual whisk at the hot plate, whipping up the glaze for the guests' game in about 5 minutes.
What I took away from my "station:" JGV was cool and calm and on the game. He was fast and intuitive. Simple as that. He was to the point and en pointe. And green. He stuck to colors and basics and created complexity with little effort. And he mixed a mean, bright green creamy asparagus puree that all the KAs and more important KAs were dipping into out of the pot after it was hurriedly almost all depleted and poured and plated for the guests as intensely as you see on the cooking shows.
Then the waiters leave, and the calm comes after the storm in the kitchen.
This salad. Five simple and potent components: roast carrot, ripe avocado, crunchy seeds, sour cream, lemon and a micro-green of a sort. Now that to me is simple and winning and works. Like driving. It's amazing how taking a little road trip can make you feel so much better. Even if it's to Ikea : ) Because a day later and I'm sitting writing to you from a nice long white desk. I made this roasted carrot salad before going and surprisingly it didn't make me buy anything of the vermillion hue. We stuck to whites.
For extra nutrition the skin is left on these bright organic carrots that were "2 bags for $3" from the store across the street, then they are halved, quartered as you fancy, swooshed in olive oil, paprika, cayenne, cumin and salt before hitting the oven. And the rest is JGV common sense. A little of each kind of texture is at play: tender, creamy, crunchy, acid, pillowy, tang, sharp. I had arugula on hand so that's what I did for the sharp component. I also added a bit of scallion chop at the end. Carrots make your eyes healthy.
Serves 2 small, one big to share or one big hearty one for one....
Roasted Carrot Salad
2-3 big handfuls arugula
3-4 large whole carrots
1/4-1/2 an avocado
2 T sunflower seeds, toasted
Pinch of minced scallion tops
2 big dollops sour cream
Juice of 1/4- 1/2 lemon
1/2 clove garlic smashed and minced
1/4 of the white part of a scallion
1-2 T olive oil
Preheat oven to 425 degrees, cut, and toss carrots in spice and oil and roast carrots on baking sheet about 25-30 minutes. Check for tenderness and slight shrivels. Squeeze a teaspoon or so of honey onto the carrots and toss, then let cool on a wire rack. If you don't have toasted seeds on hand, toss some into the oven on another sheet while the carrots cook. Really watch that they don't burn, just a few minutes is what you're going for for a little fragrance and browning.
Meanwhile, make dressing. Whisk sour cream, scallion, garlic, cayenne in a small bowl. Slowly drizzle in olive oil as you stir, it should have an aioli feel and be a bit glossy. Set aside.
When the carrots are mostly cooled, slice avocado, then assemble greens on plate and toss with a little salt, oil and lemon juice just to coat, then place carrots, avocado slices on top, along with a few dollops of dressing, the seeds and pinch of minced scallion top.