Zanahorias aliñadas—marinated carrot salad

An example of Mediterranean ingenuity, this recipe transforms boiled carrots into a memorable salad with a few simple ingredients, plus a good dose of hands-off time. The secret: a mortar-pounded blend of garlic, cumin, olive oil and vinegar and an overnight marinade, resulting in an irresistible escabeche-like tang.

Zanahorias aliñadas are a popular tapa in Andalucía, where they’re also known as zanahorias morunas, Moorish carrots. The exact origin of the dish in Spain is unclear, although it closely resembles other cooked carrot salads found in North Africa and the Middle East. Variations have likely circled the Mediterranean for centuries.

Beyond the flavor, there is much to love about zanahorias aliñadas. They travel well and are best at room temperature, so they’re a great choice for barbecues, potlucks and picnics. They also keep well, so you can make a big batch and enjoy it throughout the week—as a tapa alongside cheese and jamón; as a side for meat, fish or eggs; or even tossed with salad greens or rice.

It’s a recipe I turn to again and again to perk up the carrots languishing in my crisper drawer. Just boil them up, pound the seasonings together, and let time work its magic.

Zanahorias aliñadas—marinated carrot salad

This recipe is a hybrid inspired by Anya von Bremzen’s version in The New Spanish Table—one of my favorite Spanish cookbooks—and this version from El Comidista, the refreshingly irreverent food section in the Spanish daily, El País.
Ideally, the carrots should neither be crunchy/squeaky nor mushy, so be sure to remove them from the boiling water just as soon as they’re tender.
The salad keeps for up to one week in an airtight container in the fridge.
Plan ahead: This salad is best when left to marinate overnight (see Notes).
Serves 4–6 as a tapa

Ingredients

  • teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 1 pound (500 g) carrots (about the same width for even cooking), trimmed and peeled
  • 3 medium cloves garlic (see Notes), germs removed and roughly chopped
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper

Instructions

  • Toast the cumin seeds in an ungreased skillet until fragrant, then remove them from the skillet and set them aside.
  • Bring a large pot of well salted water to a boil, then add the carrots whole and cook them until they are just tender, about 8–10 minutes. Remove them from the water as soon as the tip of a paring knife enters with just a touch of resistance (they'll keep cooking a bit when you remove them). As some carrots may cook more quickly than others, check them often. Don't let them turn mushy.
  • Meanwhile, pound the garlic and salt to a rough paste in a mortar using a pestle, then pound in the toasted cumin seeds. Mix in the vinegar and season with pepper, then drizzle in the olive oil as you mix with the pestle.
  • As soon as the carrots are cool enough to handle, cut them crosswise into bite-sized rounds, place them in a large bowl, and pour the dressing over them while they’re still warm. Toss until well blended.
  • Cover the bowl and let the carrots marinate overnight in the refrigerator (see Notes).
  • Let the carrots come to room temperature before serving them. Add more salt, pepper, olive oil or vinegar if needed, then stir in the chopped parsley.

Notes

  1. Make sure your garlic cloves don’t smell musty. As El Comidista says, avoid using garlic that tastes like your great-grandmother Rigoberta’s closet ;).
  2. The El Comidista recipe says to let the carrots marinate for at least 2 hours and up to overnight. Von Bremzen says at least 6 hours or overnight. I’ve never tried the shorter marinating times, so have only specified overnight in this recipe.
  3. Variation: Add ½ teaspoon of pimentón and 1–2 teaspoons dried oregano to the mortar when you add the cumin.

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