Ah, the restorative powers of a long weekend.
Since coming back from the US and Canada, we’ve all noticed that we’ve not coped with the stresses and strains of work quite as well as hoped.
Not only did all three of us get pretty shocking jetlag, but the trip, the nature of which was very much ‘on the hoof’, wiped us out. Lots of travelling, lots of walking.
All very good, and we had immense fun, but quite frankly, a week on a hot beach at the end of it all would have been delightful.
So, T and I decided upon a few days away, with absolutely nothing to do but relax and loaf about. I could compete Internationally at loafing about, but for my wife it’s almost impossible. Her inner guilt circuits fizz and pop, and she’s up doing something like pottering about in the garden or steam-cleaning the driveway. But this time, it worked.
We spent several blissfully idle days in a cottage in the grounds of Raithwaite Hall near Whitby.
We got through plenty of rubbish TV, old films and a fair amount of wine, and cooked simple suppers. It was most invigorating.
Apart from a trip to take ‘Breakfast With The Seals’ at the SeaLife Centre in Scarborough – highly recommended – and a whizz down memory lane around Robin Hood’s Bay and Ravenscar, we stayed put and decompressed thoroughly.
We did, however, dine at the Hall one night, and it’s from the excellent meal we had that this week’s recipe took shape.
I went for my ‘very happy Stephen’ default of a good steak, frites and Béarnaise sauce. It’s my acid test of a competent kitchen.
One of the side dishes on offer was sweet & sour carrots, which we shared. They were absolutely delicious, and I knew I’d be making them at home.
As the days went on, I’d worked these piquant little beauties into a full-blown recipe, a sort of Middle Eastern fusion dish, combining the tangy, roasted carrots with the cool creaminess of some labneh (a strained yoghurt you’ll kick yourself for not having eaten all your life) and some soft sesame-flecked flatbreads.
A dusting of parsley and a sprinkle of tart, citrussy sumac powder, and there we have it, a great meat-free dish that could make a formidable lunch, a tasty supper, or even to accompany a bit of protein such as fish, chicken or grilled red meats.
You could also just serve the carrots as is, alongside the Sunday roast, or chill them to use in salads and quiches.
The carrots are actually quite similar to the classic Carrottes Vichy, an old French haute cuisine recipe where carrots are simmered in Vichy spa water and a pinch of sugar until the water – which is very salty – reduces to a clear syrup with the sugar, glazing the vegetables as it goes. Tricky to get right, but delicious.
It does, however, rather overcook the carrots, so this recipe goes for a quick par-boil, then a hot roast, to get things caramelising fast without destroying the necessary crunch of a well-cooked carrot.
For the flatbreads:
500g strong flour
2tsp fine salt
1 tbsp unrefined golden caster sugar
1 tbsp dried yeast
350ml water, lukewarm
2 tbsps olive oil
3 tbsp black and (or) white sesame seeds
For the carrots:
500g Chantenay carrots (or regular carrots, sliced into thick discs)
1 tbsp sesame oil
150-200ml pineapple juice
1 tbsp dry white wine
2 tbsps white wine vinegar
4 tsps tomato purée
A few chili flakes (optional)
Maldon salt and freshly-ground pepper
For the labneh:
450g live goats’ milk yoghurt
450g live cows’ milk yoghurt
A little clarified or melted butter
A small bunch of curly parsley, very finely chopped
A little sumac, for dusting
A little muslin or cheesecloth (or a clean teatowel)
First, the labneh. In a bowl, combine the yoghurts and a good pinch of salt and mix well. Set a square of muslin cloth in a sieve, or spread out a clean teatowel. Tip in the yoghurt carefully, and then bring the cloth up and around to form a parcel. A spare pair of hands is always welcome here, tying or clipping the parcel in place. Leave to drain in the sieve, or, better still, hang over a sink to allow the liquid to drain away. Leave overnight, then carefully spoon the labneh into a suitable container and chill until required.
To make the flatbreads, put the water, yeast, sugar and olive oil in a bowl and stir. Leave for 10 minutes to allow the yeast to become frothy. Sift the flour and salt into a bowl, add the sesame seeds and stir in the yeasty liquid, bringing the mixture together into a soft dough. If it’s too wet, add a little more flour. Turn out onto a lightly-floured surface and knead briskly for 10 minutes. Pop into a large oiled bowl, and cover with oiled clingfilm. Leave in a warm place for about an hour, or until it has roughly doubled in size.
Tip out of the bowl and knock the dough back, then divide into 8 even-sized pieces. Roll each piece out into a neat disc about 5mm thick. Leave the flatbreads to rise a little for 10-15 minutes. Then, heat a thin frying pan and brush very lightly with olive oil or clarified butter.
Fry each flatbread for 2-3 minutes each side, making sure they brown well and char slightly in places, then remove from the pan and keep warm under a teatowel as you process all 8. When you’ve finished, stack them in a bowl and cover with clingfilm. To re-heat them, simply wrap in foil and warm through in a medium oven for 5-10 minutes.
Now for the carrots; heat the oven to 200ºC fan / Gas 6. Bring a large pan of lightly-salted water to the boil. Add the carrots, bring back up to the boil and bubble them for 5 mins. Plunge the carrots into ice-cold water, then drain in a colander, and leave them to dry out for a few minutes.
In a bowl, whisk together the oil, wine, vinegar and tomato until smooth, and enough pineapple juice to make a single-cream consistency sauce. Tip the carrots into a suitable baking dish – they should be in a single layer – and pour over the sweet and sour mixture. Season well and add the chili flakes if using.
Roast the carrots for 30-40 minutes, tossing them frequently, until nicely sticky and caramelised.
To serve, warm a flatbread and spoon over some carrots. Top with a spoonful of chilled labneh and plenty of finely-chopped parsley and sumac.