The mashed vegetable salads of North Africa have a complex deep flavor that is surprising, considering how easy it is to make them. Spicy harissa, fresh cilantro, lemon juice and caraway seeds add extra dimension to the vegetable puree that is traditionally served as an appetizer, but can equally well be an ideal accompaniment to grilled meat, poultry or fish. Tunisian carrot salad is by far the best of those salads, but squash and zucchini are equally wonderful (see variations).
Adapted from my Mediterranean Hot and Spicy.
PHOTO Anastasios Mentis
1 pound carrots
2 garlic cloves, minced
2-3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 – 1 teaspoon Harissa or to taste (you can substitute any hot pepper paste)
1 ½ teaspoons freshly ground caraway seeds
½ cup chopped cilantro leaves
3-4 tablespoons virgin olive oil
Salt to taste
A few Kalamata olives, for garnish
½ -1 cup diced feta cheese (optional)
Wash, peel, and halve the carrots lengthwise, Chop coarsely and transfer to a saucepan, then cover with cold water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer the carrots until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain, then mash with a fork, or pass through a vegetable mill fitted with a disk with medium holes.
In a bowl mix the carrots with the garlic, 2 tablespoons of the lemon juice, the harissa or any pepper paste you use with the caraway and cilantro. Stir in the olive oil and salt. Taste and adjust the seasoning with more lemon, salt or harissa, if needed.
Let cool and refrigerate for at least 3 hours or overnight.
Decorate with olives, feta, and chopped lemons if you like, just before serving.
VARIATION: North African Zucchini or Squash Salad
Steam or boil in salted water 2 pounds medium zucchini or squash until tender. Mash with a fork, place the pulp in a fine strainer and let drain for 20-30 minutes, until most of the liquid runs off.
Mix with the rest of the ingredients as above, substituting 3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves for the cilantro.