So, can we jump to the part where I tell you about this salad I just had for dinner? Because it’s one of the best salads I’ve ever made, and people, I make a lot of salads. It comes from the pages of Jamie Oliver’s Jamie at Home, which, with its stunning photos, his signature energetic, effusive voice, and a subtitle of “Cook Your Way to the Good Life,” is quite irresistible. It’s inspired by his garden, with chapters divided by the seasons, and subsections showcasing seasonal produce. Each section begins with a short introduction and closes with growing tips for that fruit or vegetable, all in an engaging, approachable manner, that makes me, killer of  decorative houseplants, feel capable of gardening. Jamie’s enthusiasm, and his absolute passion for food and cooking, is infectious. The food looks fresh, family-friendly, hearty, and luscious, a combination he does particularly well.  Towards the end of the book, there’s a recipe for a Roast Carrot and Avocado Salad with Orange and Lemon Dressing that stopped me in my tracks; there was something about the ingredients, that photo, and his enthusiasm (he declares it “fantastic” “delicious” and “a winner”, not that that’s so unusual for him). It’s in the Winter Salads section, and yes, it’s now spring, but today we awoke to torrential downpours that were incessant and borderline aggressive, and anyways, I don’t think avocados are ever in season here. I had a stash of carrots in the back of my crisper drawer for longer than I care to calculate (which seems to happen often around these parts), and with that, I set to work cooking my way to the good life.

He has you begin by parboiling the carrots, and creating a spice mixture, which you then rub on the carrots before placing them in the oven, along with an orange and a lemon that you slice in half. As they roast, the smells of cumin and garlic and thyme and the roasting citrus halves, infuse your home with warm, evocative smells, and there you are in the middle of Brooklyn dreaming of Morocco. Er, right, that would be me. Next, you brush a few slices of ciabatta with olive oil, and toast them, rubbing them with a clove of garlic while they are still warm, before tearing them into pieces, the bread crisp, then soft between your fingers. Slice your avocados into wedges, and let the assembly begin: soft, slender fingers of roasted carrots speckled with spices and wedges of avocado are topped with greens, pieces of ciabatta, and toasted nuts, and drizzled with olive oil and the juice of the roasted lemons. A scoop of labane (or sour cream) rounds it off into a glorious, luscious salad, a perfect main-course candidate. The textures are exquisite: the warm, crisp, charred ciabatta, the cold labane, the creamy avocado, the crisp, fresh greens, the nuts, the earthy, Moroccan-style carrots, perfumed and exotic and sweet. The good life, indeed.

Roast Carrot and Avocado Salad with Orange and Lemon Dressing

You could easily prep the carrots a day or two ahead of time, as well as the croutons and nuts; leaving you with just an easy assembly before serving.  

From Jamie Oliver’s Jamie at Home

Serves 4

For the carrots:

1 pound medium carrots

2 teaspoons whole cumin seeds (I used ground cumin)

1 or 2 small dried chillies, crumbled (I used a pinch of red pepper flakes)

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 cloves of garlic, peeled

4 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves picked

olive oil

red or white wine vinegar

For the salad:

1 lemon, halved

1 orange, halved (I used a second lemon instead)

3 ripe avocados

red wine vinegar

olive oil

4 x 1/2 inch thick slices of ciabatta or other good quality bread

1 clove of garlic, halved

2 handfulls of mixed salad leaves (I used baby spinach; Oliver suggests Treviso, arugula, radicchio or cavolo nero tops)

2 bunches of cress (I omitted this)

2/3 cup of sour cream (I used labane)

4 tablespoons mixed seeds, toasted (I used walnuts, black and pink sesame seeds)

Preheat your oven to 350F. Parboil your carrots in boiling, salted water for 10 minutes, until they are nearly cooked. Drain them and place them in a roasting pan. While the carrots are cooking, use a mortar and pestle to smash up the cumin seeds, chillies, salt and pepper, and add the garlic and thyme leaves, smashing until you have a kind of paste. (If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, and want to use ground cumin and red pepper flakes, finely mince the garlic first, and then simply mix together all of the spices with a fork). Add enough olive oil to generously cover the paste, and a good swig of vinegar. Stir together, and pour over the carrots in the pan, coating them well. Add the lemon and orange halves to the pan, cut-side down. These will roast along with the carrots, and their juices will form the basis of the dressing. Place in the oven for 25-30 minutes, or until golden.

While the carrots are roasting, halve and peel your avocados, cutting them into wedges, and place them in a big bowl (or on four individual dishes). Remove the carrots from the oven and add them to the avocados. Pour the pan juices into a small bowl, and carefully, using tongs, squeeze the roasted orange and lemon juice into the bowl and add the same amount of olive oil and a little swig of red wine vinegar. Season, and pour this over the carrots and avocados.

Brush your ciabatta slices with olive oil, and toast or broil them (or grill them in a grill pan). Rub a halved garlic clove over both sides of each slice. Tear into small pieces, and add to the carrot and avocado. Top with the salad leaves and cress. Spoon over a nice dollop of sour cream (or labane), drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with toasted seeds. Enjoy!