Saint Augustine, our most philosophical and prolific Saint, was born in 354 AD in Thagaste, a provincial Roman city in North Africa, what is now a part of Algeria. The Roman inhabitants of this territory were thoroughly Romanized citizen but very likely linked biologically to the North African Berbers. There are many African saints who exerted a great influence in the early church. Saint Augustine’s mother, Saint Monica, was a North African Christian, his father was a minor Roman official. The food of North Africa has always been sophisticated in its use of spices and fresh ingredients. Indeed, when the Romans conquered that part of the world, they introduced many North African ingredients into their own cuisine. Below is a carrot recipe using the same flavors available to those who lived in the time of Saint Augustine.
I’ve been finding the most amazing carrots this summer at my local greenmarket, not only the standard orange ones, but ones in deep crimson, yellow, and dark burgundy. Seeing these carrots reminded my of a beautiful North African carrot salad that I hadn’t made in a long time. It’s traditionally seasoned with cumin, cinnamon, spicy paprika, a touch of sugar and fresh mint. You can add black olives or dates, depending on whether you want to sway it in the sweet or savory direction. It seemed like the perfect recipe to celebrate August 28th, Augustine’s Saint day. If you can find any of these heirloom carrot varieties, try making this fragrant salad with a mix of colors, but it’s also quite beautiful and delicious made with all orange carrots. This salad goes very nicely with grilled lamb and a side of cous cous.
Carrot Salad with Cinnamon, Cumin, and Fresh Mint
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into rounds, on an angle
2 summer garlic cloves, peeled
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon medium spicy paprika
Extra virgin olive oil
A handful of black Moroccan olives
A handful of fresh mint leaves
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil and the butter over medium heat. When hot add the carrots and the garlic cloves and sauté a minute to release the garlic’s flavor. Add the sugar, cumin, cinnamon, paprika, and a little salt and sauté a minute longer to deepen the flavors of all the spices. Add a splash of warm water to the skillet and cover it, letting the carrots steam cook until just tender but not falling about, about 6 minutes or so. Give them a stir from time to time and add a little more water if the skillet becomes completely dry. When done, they should have a nice glaze on them. Transfer to a serving bowl. Add the olives and scatter on the mint leaves. Serve hot or warm.
By chef and food writer Erica De Mane. Please check out her food blog at http://www.ericademane.com