carroty ambrosia

carroty ambrosia

I often think that children say that they don’t like vegetables because they’ve only been served badly cooked vegetables. The boiled pre-frozen industrial carrot pennies I was served at lunch would certainly have turned me into a meat-and-starcher, so I’m really glad my parents found the time to make this at home.

This recipe makes farm fresh carrots really sing with sweetness, and adds brightness to the winter table. It’ll also help you practice your knife skills, since you’ll be slicing a lot of carrots. It’s also not a fussy recipe, and can be good training wheels for those trying to learn to cook without measuring.

Needless to say, I really like this stuff; I think of it as ambrosia because the oil takes on a bright goldenrod color. I would seriously consider this for my last meal. But food of the rich it is not: this is definitely classic northern Chinese peasant food (or maybe my parents made it up).

You will need:

  • Good chef’s knife / Chinese cleaver (sharp! a dull knife is a dangerous knife)
  • Some kind of pan / pot with a lid
  • Two wooden tossing spatulas / spoons. Plastic melts and I find that kind of freaky when that happens in my food.
  • Neutral cooking oil (corn, vegetable, safflower, peanut, ….)
  • A few cloves of garlic (say 4, if you really can’t decide, though it depends on how much you like garlic and how much carrot you can handle)
  • One scallion
  • Carrots (as much as your pot / pan can handle)
  • Mushrooms
  • Shredded meat / stock / meat-flavored bullion / soy sauce
  • Salt

You will do:

A. Prep

1. Peel, wash, and slice carrots into 1/8″ slices. Slice on the diagonal so you have bigger slices. You can do it. It’ll take a little time. Perfection is not required, but even slices mean even cooking. Keep these in a colander and agitate so the carrots are mostly dry.

2. Brush off the mushrooms, and slice them into 1/4″ slices. This should be a piece of cake. Put these in another bowl.

3. Slice garlic — 1/8″ is fine: not too thin. Cut scallion into similar rings. A trick is to cut the scallion in half, then those two in half, and stack the 4 parts on top of each other — you’ve cut your cuts in fourths. You can keep these on the cutting board.

B. Cook

4. Pour oil into dry pan, and turn on stove. Use the largest burner smaller than the pan; electric stoves go all the way up; gas probably needs only 1/2 strength. When cold, the oil should cover 3/4 of the pan. Let the oil warm — it’ll seem thinner and develop a sheen when it’s “warm.”

5. Add your sliced garlic and scallions. This infuses the oil with their flavor. Wait until the garlic barely changes color — make sure nothing burns, or everything will taste like burnt garlic. If it looks like the edges are browning before the centers of slices are even approaching soft / warm, your oil is too hot. Kill the flame, take the oil off to cool a little, and continue, with a lower setting.

6. Add carrots. If you left on too much water, it’ll snap crackle and pop; use the pot lid to defend yourself. When calm, use spatulas to toss the carrots. You’re kind of making a hot salad here, and the oil is the dressing.

7. A step for the brave: stop tossing so the bottom layer can caramelize (burn) a little. Caramelization is proof that god loves us (and I’m an atheist). Scrape them up when there’s been a bit of browning.

8. Add a small amount of liquid, maybe 1/8 of an inch on the pan. If you have stock, put it in here. If you’re going to use bullion, dissolve it in water, and add it now. Put the lid on — the liquid was to allow some steam to form, and you need to keep it in the pot so it can cook your carrots. Think back to CHEM33, heat of fusion, etc. Reduce flame to ‘mellow’ (medium, on electric).

9. Check back in 5 minutes or so. Take out a representative slice and give it a taste. Yeah? It’s only going to get better, because you’re going to add salt to taste. This means adding salt, stirring, etc. until satisfied — you want this to land on the saltier edge of your taste because you’re going to dilute the mixture with your mushrooms. Add shredded meat if you’re into meat.

10. Turn up the stove a bit. Add mushroom slices, and mix well with carrots. Lid goes back on for a minute or two.

11. Check. Taste a mushroom. Not cooked? Put the lid back on and let it cook; check back. Is it flavorful? Taste the carrots. Good? Move on No? Add salt to taste (see step 9). If the carrot and the mushroom mismatch in flavor, you need to stir more.

And you’re done!

Serve with starch of choice. The oil is a nice color, as all the fat-soluble beta carotene from the carrots has moved into it, so you might consider a lighter whole-grain bread (toasted, of course; cf. step 7). I personally like brown rice.

A note on ‘shredded meat’: I don’t mean pulled pork or that barbecue business. Just like, some part of animal, preferably pork or beef, that has been cooked with a soy profile, more or less. It’s just a vehicle for “savory” flavor, namely, hydrolyzed protein. The mushrooms are doing a big part in providing this, but meat is just another dose of it. You’ve heard of MSG — that’s the factory-artificial-copout version of what you’re adding here.

Variation:

Add mu’er (wood ears) before sticking the lid on the first time. You’ll need to soak those, as mu’er is usually sold dried (and sometimes vastly condensed — try your best to decipher the package instructions).

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