My favorite salad these days has nary a lettuce leaf in sight.
During a recent trip to Paris, I found myself wandering around the venerable Le Bon Marché department store, where the selection of high fashion products and quality goods are among the top in the city; but I was most taken with its gourmet market, La Grande Epicerie. Its endless array of charcuterie had me pretty much weeping; each piece of produce seemed like it was made for an oil painting; the confections were (almost) too perfect to eat.
Even the little refrigerated section of prepared comestibles was memorable. Near the takeaway register, it is truly designed with ambitious picnic-goers in mind. Neatly arranged plastic containers of bright bean or vegetable salads line the shelves, with small bottles of bubbly and wine merchandised right alongside. It’s in this section that I came upon the best version of the French classic grated carrot salad, or salade de carottes râpée, that I've ever tasted.
This bright, crunchy, easy-to-throw-together dish is the ultimate in cheap and cheerful eats. In his blog post about carottes râpées, cookbook author and pastry chef David Lebovitz agrees: "I don’t know why, but I do know sometimes there’s nothing more satisfying than a simple pile of grated raw carrots, lightly dressed... I resist the urge to add things to this French classic." In Around My French Table, fellow American cookbook author and baking wiz Dorie Greenspan writes about its ubiquity: "When I first went to Paris, carottes râpées, or grated carrot salad, was served at the least expensive student cafés and offered at the priciest take-out shops. Decades later, you can still find the salad just about everywhere."
This carrot salad certainly is as common as can be, served to French school children from the earliest years. “Growing up, every French kid learns to hate, and then to love, carottes râpées,” explains Louise de Verteuil, Food52’s resident French-American assistant buyer. “They were always on rotation at the school cafeteria, along with celeriac rémoulade and cold beet salad. They were also my mom’s go-to whenever she would stop by the traiteur (delicatessen) in town to pick up an easy side for any dinner or for a light summer lunch."
An everyday dish for the French, but an unexpected pick-me-up for this American, who, quite frankly, is used to kale every which way for lunch. The piquant vinaigrette is a classic one combining red wine vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, and a touch of Dijon mustard. Mixing in some chopped parsley or chives is great for color, but isn't necessary.
It is just what my palate needed, apparently. I’ve been enjoying the salad chilled with a squeeze of lemon on its own, but it also tastes great atop actual salad greens, in a no-cook summer vegetable wrap, or even in a sandwich. I prefer it after it's had some time to hang out in a cold fridge, where the carrots can mingle with the vinaigrette. I also prefer the carrots grated super duper fine, nearly shredded, but I might be in the minority on this one! Honestly, I don't think I’ve ever enjoyed raw carrots more.
Like most homey recipes, there's bound to be a pro tip, and we've got you covered: “My mom says the salad often calls for more salt than you think, so you need to add it in little by little,” divulges Louise.
Next time your lunch needs a bit of a tangy kick, try your hand at salade de carottes râpée (David Lebovitz's recipe, which lives on his blog, is a great place to start). Let it spend some time in the fridge for a bit before packing it up with other picnic-friendly delights in your oh-so-chic tote (chilled rosé optional). Lunch tastes better already.
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Have you tried the traditional French grated salad before? Let us know if you're a fan below!