Despite its fancy reputation, most French cooking is shockingly simple, understated even, which is what can make it so difficult to master. Besides butter, there’s nothing much to hide behind, and a lot of French dishes hinge on having good ingredients and decent technique. Take this simple grated carrot salad — or “salade de carottes râpées” — for instance.
There are a ton of recipes for this thing online (David Lebovitz’s is my favourite), but they all have the same basic ingredients: carrots, olive oil, lemon, herbs (usually parsley), and maybe a little Dijon. Toss it all together and you have a salad that will jive with any grilled fish, roasted hunk of meat, or simple sandwich. It’s the perfect summer side dish, and its success is determined by whether or not you take the time to grate the carrots yourself.
This is tedious, but not all that hard, and entirely worth it. Pre-shredded carrots are far too dry for this salad — the dressing slides right off the little waxy little shreds. You want your carrots finely and freshly grated, so the simple lemon vinaigrette has something to cling to. A box grater, rotary grater, or the grating attachment to a food processor all get the job done in short order, though I used a hand-held julienne peeler and that worked fine, too. (If julienned carrots strands are too long for your liking, just cut ‘em up with your kitchen shears.)
Once your carrots are shredded, you just have to choose your acid and herbs. Lemon and parsley are traditional, but you can add a little sherry, white wine, or apple cider vinegar, and get some chives and tarragon involved. I tend to stick to the template in the Lebovitz recipe, but I often increase the amount of acid to match to oil. Most recipes tell you that you can make this salad “up to 24 hours in advance,” but I’ve had some in the fridge since Friday evening and it still has a fair amount of crunch.
French Carrot Salad (adapted from DavidLebovitz.com)
- 500g of carrots (try purple for extra visual excitement)
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (or a combination of lemon juice and sherry vinegar)
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1/4 teaspoon + a big pinch of white table sugar
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (or a combination of parsley, tarragon, and chives)
Shred the carrots finely and transfer them to a big mixing bowl. Add everything else except the herbs to a small jar or other container with a lid, then shake to emulsify. Add the dressing, little bits at a time, to the carrots until they are “glistening,” but not swimming in dressing. Add the herbs and toss again. Let hang out on the counter for at least an hour, or up to 24 hours in the fridge. Just make sure to take it out half an hour or so before serving. This salad is best served room-temp, alongside a freshly-grilled and charred piece of meat or fish.