As a health-conscious vegetarian, I gave Afro-Vegan: Farm-Fresh African, Caribbean, and Southern Flavors Remixed (Ten Speed, Apr.) by chef/activist Bryant Terry a try because I love to try new combinations of flavors. I also can’t help but appreciate Terry’s work in creating recipes that address what he describes in his introduction as, “The public health crisis among African-Americans that is directly related to... the overconsumption of animal protein.” His mission: to “empower people to choose wholesome foods to improve the physical and spiritual health of their families and communities.”
One quick look through the book will show any cook that eating healthy and vegan doesn’t mean lacking delicious options. The book runs the gamut from Tofu Curry with Mustard Greens and Berbere-Spiced Black-Eyed Pea Sliders to Millet and Sweet Potato Porridge. There were many recipes I wanted to try outright, but I settled on the Glazed Carrot Salad since carrots are currently one of my go-to foods. They’re crisp, satisfying, and healthy to boot. When I saw the ingredient list also included maple syrup, cilantro, cumin seeds, and peanuts, well... that made me want to cook it up even sooner.
The cooking experience in this book is heightened by music, book, and film recommendations aimed to mesh with the recipes. For the Glazed Carrot Salad, George Duke’s “Sweet Bite” from his 1973 album, The Inner Source, was suggested. I’ll admit that the music added a warm presence to the kitchen, which I began to feel as I crushed the toasted cumin seeds. The music and aroma from the cumin mixed delightfully in the air as I cut the carrots while waiting for the blanching water to boil.
Even though the recipe takes quite a bit of preparation time (toasting the cumin seeds, cutting the carrots, and preparing the garnish) it all came together very easily. Just a few scoops and measures added to a large bowl and then tossing the carrots with the mixture brought about beautifully glazed carrots ready for the oven. They cook up quickly and require just one toss. I would just make sure to allot enough time to prepare the final garnish of cilantro, mint, and peanuts—chopping and grinding those items took a bit longer than I anticipated. Of course it could be that the music favors a take-it-slow mentality, which is the best way to approach this dish. Preparing the garnish before boiling the water would allow for a more relaxed timeframe.
The final result was a good-looking meal, and surprising, too. The flavor combinations worked as well together as I’d hoped. A nutty flavor hit my palate first, followed by the sweetness of the maple syrup; the mint’s freshness came after, as a residual taste. And the perfectly tender bite on the carrots added another layer of delight to the dish. I could see having this as a light main meal or as a side to any number of dishes.
Glazed Carrot Salad
(Makes 6 to 8 servings)
1 1/4 pounds carrots (about 10 medium carrots)
1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 teaspoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted*
1/4 cup packed chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons roasted peanuts, crushed
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
Preheat the oven to 425° F. Line a large roasting pan with parchment paper.
Put about 12 cups of water in a large pot and bring to a boil over high heat. While the water is heating up, cut the carrots into sticks by cutting them in half cross-wise, trimming away the edges of each piece to form a rough rectangle, then quartering each rectangle lengthwise. (Compost the scraps or save them for another use.)
When the water is boiling, add 1 tablespoon of the salt, then add the carrots and blanch for 1 minute. Drain the carrots well, then pat them dry with a clean kitchen towel.
Put the oil, lemon juice, maple syrup, cinnamon, garlic, cumin seeds, and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt in a large bowl and mix well. Add the carrots and toss until evenly coated. Transfer to the lined pan (no need to clean the bowl). Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 10 minutes. Remove the foil, gently stir with a wooden spoon, then bake uncovered for about 10 minutes, until the carrots start to brown.
Return the carrots to the bowl. Add the cilantro and toss gently to combine. Serve garnished with the peanuts and mint.
*Although it might be easier to use preground spices, toasting whole spices and grinding them right before using them will give you bolder and more complex flavors. The easiest way to toast spices is to heat a dry skillet over medium heat and add the spices after the pan is warm. Shake the pan to move the spices around and toast until they smell nutty and fragrant, usually 2 to 5 minutes. If toasting several spices for a recipe, do them in separate batches, since cooking times vary. Once the spices have cooled, pulverize them in a mortar or grind them in a spice grinder and use right away or store in an airtight container for up to 6 months.