When I couldn’t sleep last night, I turned to a book I’ve been enjoying immensely over the past few months. Aglaia Kremezi’s Mediterranean Vegetarian Feasts is a cookbook full of stories and pictures, by a cook whose recipes I trust and value. It’s rich with the feeling of place, with recipes written in a way that invites creative thinking, rather than sticking to the script. My copy is peppered with post-its for ideas and recipes, like these:.
I love Aglaia’s philosophy of “nose to tail” vegetarian cooking:
I strongly believe that the practice of “nose-to-tail eating” should not be restricted to meat, but should include all vegetables, greens, herbs and fruit…Cutting down on waste forces the cook to invent new and exciting dishes. Thrown-out parts of vegetables have hidden qualities: The fragrant green part of scallions are ideal for all kinds of stuffings or pie fillings, while the pink roots and bottom stems of spinach make a delicious salad or side dish —briefly blanched, their crunchy texture and sweet, earthy taste is quite addictive, distinct from the taste of tender spinach leaves.
The pink roots and bottom stems of spinach? Who knew? (Though I’ve long been sauteeing watercress stems…)
Her Mediterranean Bouquet Garni expanded my notion of the classic French flavor pack: “My version…includes whatever herbs grown in the garden at any given time, plus cinnamon and dried orange peel.”
The book describes a way of eating and of life…
…through dishes that are do-able and incredibly appealing…(Her “naked”, crustless savory zucchini pies are inspired.)
This weekend, I’m trying Aglaia’s Orange and Olive Carrots, a simple recipe that can easily morph into Sauteed Olives and Carrots with Preserved Lemon and Thyme (Both recipes follow, with Aglaia’s headnotes; you can get as simple or as elaborate as you feel).
Recipe: Orange and Olive Oil Carrots
You can halve the recipe, but I like to make more because these carrots are addictive and extremely versatile. I like to keep a bowl in my refrigerator ready to add to salads, grain pilafs, and soups, or just to eat with grilled cheese or fish. My dogs love them too, so I use them as treats!
Makes about 4 cups (about 600 g)
1 1/2 pounds (680 g) medium carrots, sliced into 1/8-inch rounds (use a mandoline or a food processor)
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/2 cup (120 ml) olive oil
1 cup (240 ml) fresh orange juice
Maraş pepper or freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Heat the olive oil in a large, deep, heavy-bottomed sauté pan and add the carrots. Sprinkle with the salt and sauté, tossing often, for 2 to 3 minutes, until the carrot slices are coated with olive oil.
Add the orange juice and cook, uncovered, tossing often, for about 10 minutes, until the carrots are tender and the orange juice has evaporated. Add pepper, taste, and correct the seasoning. Let cool, cover, and refrigerate for up to 4 days.
Recipe: Sautéed Olives and Carrots with Preserved Lemon and Thyme
“This preparation is a recipe from my father,” writes French chef Guy Gedda, describing a combination of sautéed carrots and olives, cooked either with milk or rich, thick crème fraîche. Sweet carrots and salty-bitter olives complement one another beautifully, probably better than the braised onions and olives that have been in my repertory of quick bites for years. Inspired by Gedda’s dish, I decided to rework my mother’s recipe for carrots with orange juice and olive oil, as I remember them from my childhood. She called them “caramelized” to appeal to our sweet tooth, I guess, but she never used sugar, just freshly squeezed orange juice and olive oil (recipe follows). I prefer to keep the olives unpitted to preserve as much flavor as possible. If you do want pitted olives, pit them yourself or choose them carefully, as most pitted olives tend to be too salty and otherwise tasteless. Slivers of preserved lemon and a combination of dried and fresh thyme, or my Eastern Mediterranean spice and herb blend, add the final touches to this very simple dish.
Serves 6 to 8 for meze
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, peeled and smashed
2/3 pound (about 300 g) full-flavored, brine-cured black olives (like Pelion or Niçoise), rinsed and dried on paper towels
2 cups (480 ml) Orange and Olive Oil Carrots (recipe above)
1/4 preserved lemon peel, rinsed, dried, and cut into thin strips
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 teaspoon Maraş pepper or chili pepper flakes, or more to taste
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme
1 lemon, halved, each half cut into 4 wedges (optional)
Heat the olive oil in a skillet. Add the garlic and toss for a few seconds until fragrant and discard. Add the olives, carrots, and preserved lemon to the skillet and sauté over medium-low heat, stirring carefully for 2 to 3 minutes, until just heated through.
Remove from the heat and add the dried thyme or spice blend and Maraş pepper, and toss. Transfer the mixture to a shallow dish, sprinkle with the fresh thyme and serve warm or at room temperature, with lemon wedges, if you like.
Aglaia’s Mediterranean Vegetarian Feasts is a treasure.