Carrots and Kate
I hardly ever mention names on this blog – that was a decision at a point where I was showing around a guest whose name I wanted to keep confidential. However – I make an exception for names like Richard Gere and Kate. While Kate is not as well known as Richard Gere she is already on my website and blog as my web designer, and she is my blog fairy. She arrives tonight – and I love having visitors.
It is interesting how much more cheerful my house is with new staff members chatting in the kitchen, and visitors to move around town with.
We have been eating a lot of carrots lately. They are in season and everywhere. I think they stay in season a long time as I remember buying them from street stalls in February when I first arrived. Visiting Sakkara with another lot of friends recently we stopped near one of the stands selling them. We had, by then, passed dozens.
It is a prolific and generous time near the growing band of soil that skirts the canals from the Nile.
A trip to Sakkara is the best possible way to see the difference the water makes. You drive along a road with water on one side in a canal – sometimes lined, but mostly not! The canals are the sort of water that you pray you don’t fall into – foul and greenish, sluggish and with all sort s of floating nameless and unidentifiable stuff. On either side of the canal are date palms and market gardens – richly verdant. Even the weeds look strong and healthily and emerald green. It is a time when ripe dates are festooning the trees in over-the-top effusion. They hang like huge Christmas baubles in bunches held out from the sides of the tree on long golden-orange stems. Some are yellow dates, and some ripen to a dark red. They are tart and astringent and crunchy at this stage, and though they are sold everywhere I don’t like them much. I prefer the next stage – where they start to go dark brown and sticky – and wettish inside. At this stage they are what we call ‘fresh’ dates in Australia.
At the edges of the canals and in the plantations huge areas had been laid out with dates to dry in the sun. The colours and stages had been separated and so it was a patchwork quilt – but huge squares in gold and orange and red and every shade of brown. Even the stems they are picked from are not wasted. They are laid out on the roads so cars will run over them, crushing and softening them so they can be turned into brooms.
I digress. We stopped at a stand selling carrots. They have everything still attached, though the roots are washed clean of soil. They gleam bright orange against their green lacy tops, and when you buy them the tops are fed immediately to the donkey which is sometimes still harnessed to the cart, sometimes hobbled nearby.
Last time I bought carrots here I paid about 7 pounds for a kilo. This is a bit less than $1.80 Australian.
My new driver insisted that he would get a better price than I would so I handed him ten pounds. How many did I want? “Oh,” I said, “Just get what that will buy.”
I got five kilos of new carrots. We have had them as vegetables and with salads. We have hardly dented them with only two of us here most of the time. This period with the holiday for the Eid I had decided to make carrot halva. I love the stuff. I grew up with this and my sister and I called it Carrot Oooahhh. While I knew my father was born in India I did not realise that this was an Indian food until I saw it in the window of an Indian restaurant in Malaysia about twenty five years ago and that was a moment of epiphany!
I made some – enough I thought for two nights of deserts – and Bob loved it and scoffed the lot. It is wonderful wintry food – warm and comforting like the best milk puddings, but with the aromatic quality of the best of ‘ethnic’ food. It is served warm in our house, and the version I make is wetter than I ate as a child, and requires a spoon rather than fingers. It has the fragrance of cardamom and cinnamon, the crunch of fresh almonds, the occasional succulence of a golden plumped and spiced sultana – heavenly.
Just because I know I am going to be asked otherwise – here is the recipe. I make it by guesswork really and don’t measure – but I am doing my best.
Grate four large carrots or six medium ones. Put the carrot in a saucepan so it comes about a third of the way up and just cover with water. Not too much, as it has to boil away. Add a heaped teaspoon of cinnamon and the whole black seeds from four pods of cardamom. Simmer until the carrot is tender and the water has almost gone.
While this is happening soak half a cup of whole almonds in boiling water and squeeze them out of their skins. Take the stems off a third of a cup (or more to taste if you like) sultanas (golden raisins for Americans). Rough chop the almonds.
Yes – I know you can buy almonds already shredded and sultanas without stems in Australia – I am just trying to show you that this is more work here and you are all spoiled.
When there is only about half a centimetre of water in the bottom of the carrot pan when you pull the carrot aside add about 25 grams of butter – a lump anyway. Add two tablespoons (English measurements) of powdered full cream milk. You want to have it taste as if you have done a long slow simmer in milk and have condensed it right down – without having to stir it for an hour and have it keep catching on the bottom. This is a cheat but it is a great one. Also add about a tablespoon and a half of sugar (taste and add it in bits to get it the way you like it) and stir well, stirring it as it continues to cook till there is just a smidgeon of free liquid. Toss in the almonds and sultanas and cook for a few more minutes. Add a little cream just to smooth it a bit. No-one said this was a low calorie dish.
And just in case I managed to confuse everyone – a tablespoon in Australia is twice the size it is in America. If you are reading this in the States, double all the tablespoons for yourself.
Let it cool a bit before serving and it thickens slightly. It is even better next day if you can make any last that long. You can even pretend it is good for you – after all – it is almost all vegetable and that MUST be good. This is one vegetable that most children love.