One of the reasons I believe that trusting your instincts will make you a better cook is because it’s worked for me. I never went to culinary school. I never cooked under the guidance of a famous chef. True, I’ve been cooking since I could walk into the kitchen and have read countless books about culinary technique and certainly learned a lot from working alongside fellow cooks and chefs over the years, but what I’ve discovered after over a decade in the kitchen is this: A trip to culinary school will not make you a great cook. Following a recipe does not make you a great cook. Truly great, exciting, delicious, vibrant food comes from a deeper, instinctual place. A place that lives in each of us.
For me, this is a place of creativity. I can understand why they call it the “culinary arts” because cooking has always felt like an artistic, creative process to me. It’s an activity that relies on me using all my senses and is more successful when I listen to my internal “gut” sense. Take this carrot and orange salad, for example. I wanted to create a Moroccan-style salad that would compliment a tahini-yogurt puree that I recently made for this dinner. I did a little digging around in my favorite cookbooks (most notably and recently anything by this guy) but most recipes for Moroccan carrot salads call for cooked carrots and I knew I needed a different texture for this dish to work. So I decided to start with raw carrots, add in thick slices of oranges plus some pine nuts for crunch.
The result is a salad that is nice on the eyes, full of interesting textures and has just the right amount of zing. It’s satisfying to all my senses and is a success because I trusted my instinct to leave the carrots raw and let my taste buds decide the rest.
So when you make this salad, I hope you’ll use the recipe below as a mere guideline and trust your own instinctual guidance. Maybe you’ll use a variety of carrot colors, maybe you’ll throw in different herbs like mint or parsley or cilantro, maybe you’ll use a different nut like almond or pistachio.
Whichever way you go, I think now is a good time to talk about how to cut an orange. I’m crazy about citrus and use any excuse to add oranges, limes, grapefruits and lemons to a dish. I like to use this simple method of peeling citrus with a knife whenever I want large pinwheels of tangy flavor in a salad.
- 1 cup plain Greek yogurt (I used low-fat but any version will do. If you use non-fat you'll likely need a bit more olive oil to make the dip glossy and lovely.)
- 1/3 cup tahini
- 1/4 tsp grated garlic
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/4 cup water (more or less, as needed)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- In a large bowl, combine the yogurt, tahini, garlic, lemon juice and olive oil. Whisk until combined, adding the water as needed to smooth out the mixture. You can make it thinner or thicker depending on the amount of water you add -- just note that you'll need more salt if you thin it out to a sauce-like consistency. If you tahini is a bit chunky and refuses to whisk into a smooth puree, you can dump all the ingredients in a food processor or blender and give it a whir -- it will smooth right out.
- This dip was delicious as a base for the Carrot & Orange Salad below -- I tucked the both in some whole wheat pita bread for a delicious lunch. But this dip can really be used anywhere you would use hummus.
- There are many brands of tahini out there and not a lot of consistency among them. Some are very thick and past-like, some are more pourable. In all cases, tahini will separate (like peanut butter) and the oil will float to the top leaving the thicker solids on the bottom of the jar or can. If you encounter a can/jar that has clumpy tahini that refuses to stir together, I recommend dumping the whole thing into a food processor and giving it a whir. Then return it to your can/jar for storage. Next time you go to use it, the consistency will be better.
- 1 1/2 cups peeled and sliced carrots (cut about 1/4-inch thick on the bias)
- 2 oranges, peeled with a knife and sliced into rounds (see video above)
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 tablespoons finely snipped chives
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- Toss together all of the ingredients in a bowl and let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.
- You can serve as a side salad or, as I did, over Tahini-Yogurt Puree with a side of toasted pita bread.