I’ve been thinking a lot about carrots lately. Or I should say rethinking. While carrots dug from the ground or bought at the local farmer’s market, leafy tops and dirty crevices still on show, are often sweet and delicious and make their way into my salads, for awhile I couldn’t help thinking that carrots were a beginner vegetable. The garnish on a plate of spicy wings. Maybe the only thing dressing up a side of pale green iceburg lettuce. I’ll admit it, they didn’t often make it home with me from the market.
But then I got a bunch in my farm share. And inspired by a friend, who brought them over for lunch one day tossed with a ginger-soy dressing, I went back to roasting them. Cut into pinky-finger size, I tossed them with just enough oil to keep them moist and a touch of salt and cooked them at 350 degrees for about a half hour, or until they were soft. These could be eaten with any roasted vegetable combination, atop a salad, or as a side to a protein. But, like my friend who works for a local farm and believes staunchly in supporting local food and businesses, I… made a dressing out of an ingredient from halfway around the world. I whisked together a few tablespoons of red miso, apple cider vinegar, and grapeseed oil and tossed the roasted carrots in it. It was a revelation – the salty umami of the dressing and the sweetness of the vegetable brought out through roasting were an excellent balance, and I have since remade the dressing with maple vinegar instead of apple cider, and corn oil in place of grapeseed, depending on what I have on hand. I’ve used it on salads and atop quinoa and with other roasted vegetables. I’ve made it with more miso for a stronger punch, and have used other varieties as well. It tastes great with all kinds of vegetables, but I still like it with sweet roasted carrots the best.
I have moved beyond being a local eating fanatic* – I consume coffee and olive oil and chocolate near daily, after all. But still I sometimes forget to be inspired by decidedly non-local flavors in my own cooking. Now a tub of high quality miso is a staple in my fridge and can last a few months. I credit this ingredient, printed with Japanese characters, with re-discovering a vegetable that could be found just a few miles away.
* Although there are actually more and more locally and American-made misos available around the country. Miso Master is an organic brand made in North Carolina, and distributed by Whole Foods, and some small, local fermenting businesses are starting to experiment with their own fermented soybean paste (that’s what miso is!) and might be found in your area.