Evenly chopped carrots
Lots of hand-chopped herbs
Contrasting flavors and textures
I 'd spent days scraping pounds of carrots—and my knuckles—against a box grater, but I still wasn't any closer to improving upon the classic shredded carrot salad, which is usually damp and clumpy. Using the shredding disk on my food processor wasn't any help; it produced long, overly thick shreds that were unpleasant to eat. In fact, it wasn't until I stumbled upon an unusual recipe from cookbook author Joan Nathan that I realized I'd been approaching my revamp of this dish all wrong. It wasn't so much the flavors or the ratio of dressing to carrots or even my shredding technique that needed to change. It was the method itself: The grater had to go.
Nathan's recipe, based on an Israeli technique, calls for finely chopping the carrots in a food processor. The resulting texture is entirely different from the damp, clumpy consistency of a shredded carrot salad. The fine bits deliver the vegetable's juicy, earthy sweetness but offer a texture that's more like grains with a pleasant crunch. To lighten things up, Nathan mixes the chopped carrots with lots of fresh herbs, garlic, and nuts and binds the salad together with a bright lemony dressing. The result—something like a vivid orange tabbouleh, with carrots in place of cracked wheat—is a surprising and refreshing take on a too-familiar vegetable and a frustrating technique. Best of all, it takes mere seconds to make, since the food processor does the lion's share of the work.
I was sold on this template and excited to come up with flavor variations of my own. I also had a few ideas for tweaking the technique, starting with exactly how thoroughly to process the carrots and herbs to produce even pieces. Another change on my list was to dial down the garlic flavor, which was rather strong, and mix in other components to add complexity and further lighten the consistency of the salad.
I wanted the bits of carrots and herbs to be fine, not ground. But as anyone who's blitzed vegetables or herbs in the food processor knows, if you process until every last piece is finely chopped, some of the mixture inevitably breaks down into a soupy mush. On the other hand, if you are too conservative and don't process the pieces enough, you're likely to leave large carrot chunks or whole herb leaves in the processor bowl. I found that the best way to avoid uneven pieces was to cut the whole peeled carrots into 1-inch chunks before adding them to the processor bowl; doing so added just minutes to the recipe and helped produce the fine, even bits that I wanted.
The herbs—I started with ½ cup of cilantro leaves—were more challenging. No matter when I added the leaves to the processor bowl (before, with, or after the carrots) or how conservatively I processed them, some inevitably turned to mush, muddying the salad's fresh flavor and sabotaging the delicately crunchy texture I was after. Mincing the cilantro by hand was a bit more work, but it gave me much better control over the final product. And it wasn't as onerous as it sounds, especially once I implemented our efficient mincing method: Gather the leaves into a tight pile with your nonknife hand, slice them thin using a rocking motion, turn the pile 90 degrees, gather them again, and repeat. Using this approach, I sped through the knife work.
The only part of the vegetable prep that was a bit of a drag was peeling all those carrots, and it made me wonder if I could skip peeling altogether and just give the roots a trim and a good scrub instead. I gave it a shot and was pleased to discover that it was actually advantageous: Not only was the skin's slightly tougher texture imperceptible in those tiny pieces but the skin also lent the salad a subtle earthy bitterness that matched well with the vegetable's sweeter core and all those grassy-tasting fresh herbs.
Science: The Skinny on Carrot Skin
In most applications, we’ve found that it’s important to peel carrots because the skin can be a little tough and impart a slightly bitter flavor. The source of that flavor is high levels of two bitter-tasting compounds, falcarindiol and dicaffeic acid, which protect the carrot from oxidation and fungi (carrot flesh contains very small amounts of these compounds). But for our chopped carrot salads, we chose to leave the skin on the carrots for three reasons: The texture of the skin is not detectable in the tiny pieces, it saves us the tedious step of peeling, and the faint bitterness complements the bright, sweet, fresh flavors of the other components.
Mixing It Up
Circling back to the garlic, I tried mincing it by hand to make sure it was fine enough, along with incrementally reducing the amount. But in both cases, its harsh taste overwhelmed the more subtle flavors of the other components. It was better to leave it out altogether.
Now for some salads with flavors of my own. The first was a nod to Nathan's original: I kept the lemon-based dressing and the pistachios but added a touch of honey, swapped out the cilantro for mint, seasoned the mixture with smoked paprika and a touch of cayenne, and mixed in pomegranate seeds for bursts of tangy sweetness and vibrant color. I liked the addition of fruit with the carrots, so I mixed up a couple more variations in the same vein: One was a riff on classic American carrot salad, with raisins, celery, and parsley, and the other featured chopped fennel, toasted hazelnuts, orange juice and zest, and chives. The last salad, a kimchi-inspired version, paired a rice vinegar–based dressing with cilantro, plus coarsely chopped radishes and toasted sesame seeds for extra crunch.
Never thought you'd be excited to make—or eat—carrot salad? Give these a whirl.
When Better Is Also Faster
Carrots that are finely chopped in the food processor make a salad that’s much lighter and more open-textured than the shredded kind. Best of all, processing the carrots takes mere seconds and keeps your knuckles out of harm’s way.
Keys to Success
Evenly chopped carrotsCutting the whole carrots into 1-inch chunks before processing helps them break down into evenly sized pieces. The food processor breaks down the carrots in seconds.
No peelingBy leaving the carrot skins on, we save time and add a pleasant, subtly bitter flavor to the salad.
Lots of hand-chopped herbsChopping herbs in the food processor inevitably turns some to mush. We hand-chop them for more-even results, using an efficient chopping method. A generous amount of herbs breaks up the carrot pieces and adds freshness.
Contrasting flavors and texturesIn addition to the herbs, we mix toasted nuts or seeds, fruit, and/or other crunchy vegetables into the salads to lighten up the texture of the carrots and balance the flavors.