March 25, 2019

Got a bag of carrots? Make Tunisian "carrot pesto"!

This recipe is deceivingly simple but so flavourful.

I've written before about the special place my heart holds for Tunisia, my dear friend Synda, and our shared love of cooking. This is a recipe she taught me, many years ago, a Tunisian classic called Ommek Houria. It's kind of like a pesto, maybe more of a spread... some people even call it carrot caviar! You can learn from the pro and watch Synda preparing it on her beautiful online Tunisian cooking show here! I love this recipe because the ingredients are fairly commonplace, but the flavour combination is new and exciting.

A couple months ago, I volunteered to cook a benefit dinner to raise funds for the Madagascar School Project, and for the appetizers, I made little crostini (baguette toasts) with Ommek Houria, and also Slata Mechouia (a Tunisian dish of gilled pepper, onion, garlic, tomatoes all mashed up with spices and olive oil... sooo good). They were gobbled up in a flash!

This is a great recipe at this time of year, when there is not much in the way of fresh produce at farmers market, but still many farmers trying to sell off the last of their winter root crops before the new season begins.

It's been a while since I wrote on this blog. Is anyone still out there?? Between the PBS blog and my film "Modified", I've had my hands quite full lately, and I've missed you!

Last summer, I started a whole new format with my cooking videos. Now, each video features a different farmer or gardener, with a recipe from their kitchen and an ingredient from their farm or garden. It's been such a wonderful opportunity to meet food producers and learn about what they grow and how they cook it. I'm on a little hiatus now until the weather warms again but I'll be back at it soon, with some brand new videos coming your way. Here was one of my favorite videos out of the five I created in the new format:

Some of you have asked where you can see my film Modified. It's been doing the film festival circuit the past year and a half, and showing in theaters and at community screenings and it will soon be released on DVD and for digital online streaming. In the meantime, do check out the list of upcoming public screenings on the film's website, and you can also put in a request to host a community screening of the film. I'm also very excited to announce that the film's first national broadcast (in Canada) takes place this Friday, March 29 on CBC television at 9:00 pm across Canada (9:30 pm in NL). The CBC version of the film is a shorter one, 44 minutes long, whereas the feature-length version is 87 minutes.

I'm not gonna lie, it's felt a little scary and heavy at times to put such a personal film out into the world, especially one that challenges the industrial model agriculture used to produce much of our food. I've recently been reminded of just how toxic the online world can be, with trolls and staunch industrial ag defenders making angry and hateful comments about the film, even without having seen it. It's a reminder of the powerful lobby out there, whose purpose is to defend pesticides & industrialized agriculture at all cost, even when the science clearly shows that the way we are producing our food needs to change. From the catastrophic collapse of global insect populations caused by intensive pesticide use, to the ever-growing dead zones in our oceans and lakes caused by fertilizer run-off, to the massive release of greenhouse gas emissions created by industrial agriculture, the need for change urgently need to be addressed. It's become more important than ever before to support local, organic agriculture, which is trying to take us in a different direction, one that provides more biodiversityhealthier soils, and healthier foods.

PS: One more thing, I'm doing a fun little shampoo bar giveaway this week on my Instagram page! Did you know if every American switched from plastic-bottled shampoo to these little guys below, the manufacture and disposal of 552 million plastic shampoo bottles would be avoided. That's how many plastic shampoo bottles are thrown out each year in the US alone!)

But let's get back to carrots shall we?
And this Ommek Houria.
Here's how it's made:

Ommek Houria (Carrot "pesto"):

8 medium-large carrots
4 to 6 cloves of garlic, finely minced or crushed
1/2 tsp. ground caraway + 1 tsp. ground coriander (or substitute 1 tsp. cumin)
1 tsp paprika
1/4 cup olive oil
1 onion, chopped finely
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp lemon juice

Optional but recommended toppings:

A handful of chopped fresh parsley
2 hard boiled eggs, sliced
A good fresh baguette

To begin, cook the carrots. In Tunisia, this is usually done by peeling them, chopping them, and boiling them in water until soft. It's perhaps less traditional but I often like to roast the carrots whole, in a 375F oven, with a little olive oil rubbed on to coat them, because I've read carrots keep their nutritious value more when roasted whole. You can use either method, so long as you end up with carrots that are nice, soft and tender.

Sautée the finely chopped onion in 1 Tbsp of olive oil, on medium heat, until nice and golden.

Now mash the carrots (with a fork, or in a food processor). If using the food processor don't puree them until smooth, they should still be a bit chunky. Now add the cooked onion and all the other remaining ingredients. Mix well. You should have a nice chunky bright orange mash. Taste, and add a bit more salt or spices, as needed.

Traditionally, Ommek Houria is served with toppings such as olives and hard boiled eggs, a good glug of olive oil on top, and a fresh baguette to scoop it up with. It can also be served as a spread on top of toasted baguette, as is shown in the photo. Enjoy!

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