Les Carottes Rapées

You won’t often find much in the way of vegetables on the menus of many cafés in Paris. I don’t mean the over-hyped restaurants with the fancy chef names attached that the slick food magazines tend to worship. There you might find a coin of grilled zucchini, a dot of sauce, and perhaps a leaf of parsley as a carefully-draped garnish. But most of the time, those places are filled with Americans with Zagat guides sticking out of their pockets. What I mean are the places where most Parisians actually eat lunch.

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Many French workers get financial help footing the bill, courtesy of le Ticket Resto, a program that allows employees to buy discount coupons via their employer to dine out. The advantage to that is that it keeps many small restaurants thriving, so most of them offer a prix-fixe menu that anyone’s welcome to enjoy, usually costing less than 15 euros for a 2- or 3-course meal.
Another advantage is that it gives workers time to have a proper lunch with co-workers and friends.

(Sidenote: Having worked in restaurants all my life, I was once at a dinner party and mentioned that I never had a job where I got a true a break. All conversation stopped, forks in mid-air, and everyone turned and looked at me in disbelief. When I left the restaurant business I vowed I would never eat standing up again. And I haven’t!)

What that also means is that the food must be quick and relatively easy to prepare. Menus offer steaks or long-cooked stews, and perhaps a sauteed piece of fish. But since vegetables require washing, peeling, slicing, pre-cooking, and a bit of finesse, it’s quite difficult to find freshly-cooked vegetables on menus of ordinary restaurants. The most popular side dish is les frites; all that’s needed is a quick drop-in-the-deep-fryer, and they’re done. Sadly, most of the time, they’re the pre-frozen frites, which arrive undercooked and insipid. I make it a point to find restaurants with real, honest French fries.
And I go back as much as possible, as a show of support.

Even ratatouille, that famous vegetable dish from Provence is just a big bowl of overcooked, soft vegetables. And please don’t tell me that I haven’t had a good version of ratatouille…I have, and I still don’t like it.

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There is one vegetable dish that’s so popular that it ranks right up there with foie gras and le baguette as classics of modern French cuisine. That’s carottes rapées, a crisp pile of freshly-grated carrots. There’s well-known aversion in France to undercooked vegetables (or as they say, ‘American-style’) and you almost never find raw vegetables offered in Paris.

Corn is always served spooned right from the can onto a salad, or worse, on pizza (with a sunny-side up egg cooked in the middle.) Tiny haricots verts are always cooked until tender. And the little pointed end of the green bean is always removed…and I’ve heard various compelling arguements why.
“C’est indigestable” (I hate lying awake all night trying to digest all the green bean ends I’ve consumed), or “It gets stuck in your teeth” (that is the worst, isn’t it?)

But my favorite reason, “That’s where all the radiation concentrates.”

um, okay…so now like a good Parisian I remove the end of the green bean, or the “boot”, as it’s called.
To limit my exposure to radiation.

Anyhow…les carottes rapées is simply grated carrots tossed in fresh lemon juice, a bit of salt, and sometimes a little olive oil. If you want to get fancy, you can add a bit of chopped flat-leaf parsley. But it’s one of those things, the simpler the better. Simple restaurants like Chartier just toss a plate of carrots at you with a wedge of lemon. Other places arrange les carottes rapées on a plate with tangy celery rémoulade and beets.

I make it often when I’m home by myself, since it’s nice to have something easy to prepare and fresh, and I always seem to have carrots around. I make a plate of carottes rapées, and eat it with a few chunks of Tradigrains baguette from my local boulanger, a nice wedge of soft, fresh, ooaing cheese like a ripe brie de Meaux or a goaty Selles-Sur-Cher, and perhaps a slice of pâte from my local charcuterie.

Here’s my how-to guide for making your own Grated Carrot Salad, French-style.

14 comments

  • when i was younger, we had a ‘fruit salad day’ and a ‘veg salad day’ at school every couple of weeks. all of us kids will have to bring some kind of fruit or vegetable. we’d cut and prep them together, dump them in a huge bucket. we’d share it during lunchhour after paying our dues to the teaching and janitorial staff. grated carrots was almost always on the menu. at home tho’, it gets a little complicated. it will be tempered with mustard seeds(an indian thing)or get a sprinkling of (lightly toasted if time permits) grated coconut, thin ringlets of green chillies(chillies and lemon go *so* well together), seeds and all. but it was frowned upon if grated carrots(or cucumber or raw mango or turnip..whatever) is the only vegetable accompaniment as it meant that the cook isnt accomplished enough to whip up a multi course dinner.

    thanks for this post. it bought back memories of shared school lunches.

  • Your note made me laugh out loud, such that I had no choice but to write and thank you for it. I continued to read on about “grated carrots.” My old friend, an Englishman born in China, raised everywhere, and then ending up near Berkeley on a hillside in a cabin, taught me to eat this. Invited for lunch, that served on a picnic table outside, he would bring out spaghetti with slices of garlic light brown and crisp in olive oil and poured over, then parmesan. The second dish was always grated carrots, again olive oil, lots of garlic, perhaps parsley, and a bit of lemon juice. And a baguette on which to pile the carrots and later to dip for the oil. Pasta and garlic, carrots and garlic, and baguette. I don’t think he knew how to cook anything else. Why should he? I transported this menu to my own home, where it continues.

  • I have always loved les carottes rapées. You can never find it anywhere outside France and it never tastes the same when you make it back home. I’ve brought back the grater, hoping it would infuse some of that special flavor but it’s always a disappointment. You can still sometimes find an assette(sp) de crudite in old style bistros with the beets and the carrots etc-one of my all time favorite things. Thanks David :)

  • Carottes râpées can be delicious or very bad depending on the vinaigrette you make. You should try and add either raisins or hazelnuts.

  • sorry to ask u this david but is the avant traveux still on at Lacoste Bastille? And how much did u buy each shirt for? ThANKS HEAPS!

  • Ack. I knew I shouldn’t have had all those pointy bean ends. Probably be up all night.

  • I made a similar dish from Epicurious called Moroccan carrots. It was simply grated carrots, olive oil, salt, vinegar, cumin, paprika and parsley. Really fast to make, especially with a food processor!

  • I just squeeze some fresh OJ on my carrots. By the way – I miss that smiling face that used to greet me here every day….

  • Wow. I didn’t realize the global appeal of carrot salad. The Indian variation certainly sounds interesting, ‘Faustianbargain’ as well as the Moroccan-style one. The carrots in France are quite good. People rave about the carrots raised in sand, but I haven’t noticed much of a taste difference. And they’re a pain-in-the-rear to wash all that sand off if you like to eat the peel, like I do.

    (And yes, the sale’s still on at Lacoste….but I got all the good colors!)

  • I laughed…still :)

    Me TOO! I don’t like ratatouille. And I don’t know why. I like all of the ingredients, on their own, or in various other combos…c’est un mystèr, non?

    Now, for the green bean tip thing:
    After living with a frenchman for 12 years, and getting to know my in-laws, I firmly believe that the old wives tales in france, will never die – even if you can show them scientific proof.

  • Wow. I eat at least one organic carrot a day (sometimes even grated over a mixed green salad), and yet I never thought to make something as simple and wonderful as this. It looks so good I want to go mix up some right now. Love your writing and sense of humor, as always. : )

  • Okay, so I mixed some of this up last night. I used two large carrots so there would be some left for today. Ha. There was barely any left by the time the accompanying hunk of homemade levain was hot! Thanks again for sharing. I think I’m already addicted to this stuff.

  • Thanks for the carrottes rapee, one of my favorite French sides, so taken for granted that recipes are rare. Versions I’ve tried in Paris often have a touch of finely diced shallot that add a certain something. Another favorite version comes from Jane Grigson’s Good Things, which uses dill among the herbs and has an oil to vinegar ratio of 5 to 1. Sounds odd, but oh so good, particularly using part walnut oil and a spot of lime juice.

    Of course, nothing compares to that oh so American Golden Glow salad that my mother (a fine and knowledgeable cook) served as a thinly disguised ploy for getting her tots to eat their carrots. The combination of lemon jello, grated carrots and crushed pineapple was always more than the sum of its parts–a mysterious delicacy that cannot be rationally explained by resort to principles of fine cooking.

  • Louisa: Yes, the French use lots of shallots, which is one of the ‘secrets’ of French cooking. Thanks for the reference to Jane Grigson, who is perhaps my favorite cookbook author. I had the pleasure of meeting her once, and she was amazing. I love her book, ‘Jane Grigson’s Fruits’. She was a great writer.