When I lived in France, I learned how to make salad dressing (aka la vinaigrette) from scratch, and it was a revelation. Almost any vegetable, raw or cooked, can be dressed with vinaigrette and be so much the better for it (at least in my book). A popular salad on French lunch tables is carottes rapées (that’s grated carrots, not raped carrots, although I once had a French tutor who confused these faux amis during a lesson at her house, asking her husband if he could please rape the cheese for their dinner quiche…) I’ve never been a huge fan of carrot sticks, or of carrot coins in a salad, but grated carrots may as well be a different vegetable entirely. I can eat great big mounds of them, and they are one of the few vegetables I prefer raw.
Here’s an informative blog post by French food maven David Lebovitz on the cultural/ culinary significance of carottes rapées. He also links to his method of preparing them, which is simplicity itself: lemon, parsley, maybe a little olive oil. My crème fraîche version is admittedly a little less “pure”, but I did serve it to a Frenchman once who exclaimed excitedly “Ah j’adore les carottes rapées!” and promptly ate most of the bowl, so I feel somewhat confident in saying that, although different, my method is still acceptable.
While you can certainly serve this salad on its own, I love to make a first course out of it by mounding it into the center of an avocado. It’s a little more luxurious, and somehow it has a sort of retro appeal. You can either peel the avocados (if they’re the correct ripeness, the skin should easily peel right off) or leave them in their shells and let people scoop out the flesh with a spoon.
salade de carottes rapées en nid d’avocat/ grated carrot salad in an avocado nest
Serves 8 as a first course; adjust measurements for smaller or larger crowds
4 ripe avocados
2 tbs crème fraîche (or substitute 1 tbs sour cream + 1 tbs plain yogurt)
1 tsp dijon mustard
1 tbs olive oil
2 tbs freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 large clove garlic, optional
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
some finely chopped parsley to garnish (I didn’t have any the day the photos were taken, and your salad certainly won’t be ruined without it, although it is a nice touch. If you really like parsley, use more and mix it right in with the carrots.)
Notes: As with almost all salads and salad dressings, I implore you to taste as you go and adjust as necessary- the measurements are intended as guidelines only. If you don’t do dairy, this dressing can easily be made without it; just increase the olive oil and lemon proportionately. Most vinagrettes use a much higher oil to acid ratio, but I find that because carrots are so sweet, they can stand up to a dressing that is quite tart. When everything comes together, it should be well-balanced. Also, if serving with avocados, their fatty blandness balances the extra tartness from the lemons. Don’t fear the sour!
Directions: Make the dressing: in a medium bowl, combine the crème fraîche, mustard, and olive oil; whisk together until well combined. Whisk in the lemon juice until fully incorporated, and season to taste with salt and pepper. If using the garlic, smash the clove and put it in the dressing to infuse.
Peel 4 carrots and grate on a box grater or in the food processor. When ready to serve, fish out the garlic and discard, and toss the carrots in the dressing until fully coated. If serving with the avocados, it’s ok if the salad is a little “over-dressed”, because you need a little extra so the avocado isn’t bland. If you’re just serving the carrots on their own, however, you may want to add a couple more carrots or reduce the quantity of dressing. If you over-dress the salad, or let it sit too long before serving, the carrots will get soggy. (Heaven forbid this should happen, but if it does, take comfort in knowing that pieces of baguette are the perfect vehicle for sopping up the extra juice.)
Halve the avocados, remove the pits, and if they don’t sit still, remove a small sliver on the bottoms so they don’t roll around. Mound the carrots in the hollow, sprinkle with parsley and serve.