If I had to compile a list of the top five National Dishes of France, right up there would be carottes râpées, or grated carrot salad. And it’s everywhere. You’ll find it on many café and bistro menus, charcuteries sell it by the kilo, and even mega-supermarkets add a few extra ingredients for ‘safekeeping’ and sell it packed up in rectangular plastic containers, ready to go.
Which, I probably don’t need to add, should be avoided at all costs.
If you order salade de carottes râpée in a restaurant, you’ll just get a pile of carrots with a wedge of lemon on the side. My frugal grandmother would’ve flipped; “Why order something you can make at home?” she’d say to me if I ordered something like, say…a nice-looking fruit salad in a restaurant.
I don’t know the answer to that.
But I do know sometimes there’s nothing more satisfying than a simple pile of grated raw carrots, lightly dressed. And it’s usually the least expensive item on the menu, so grandma can easily rest in peace.
I resist the urge to add things to it, although if you’re itching to modify the recipe, you could grate in another raw vegetable, such as beets, slivers of avocado, another legume cru, or top it with a flurry of crumbled feta. This is a great recipe to make when you have nothing on hand but a few carrots, which you can mix with regular pantry items. Unlike a lettuce salad, I find the crunchy carrots always filling and satisfying.
Parisians don’t eat too many vegetables raw, with the exception of shredded carrots and celery root. A friend of mine’s boyfriend is very French*, and she said he refuses to eat any vegetable unless it’s cooked, except carrots. And only if they’re grated.
But I guess I’m becoming one of them—in spite of my inability to master the conjugation of French verbs—because I, too, have developed a bit of an aversion to the half-cooked green beans that are sometimes referred to around here as “California-style.”
(I’ve always disliked seared tuna, or al dente pasta, as well. Either cook the damn thing—or don’t.)
This dish has all the things one doesn’t necessarily associate with French food: it’s portable enough to take on a picnic or road trip, it’s a snap to put together in just a few minutes, and best of all, it’s healthy. What’s not to like about it?
And if I do say so, my partner Romain makes the best carottes râpées I’ve ever had. Of course, he doesn’t follow a recipe: he mixes, tastes, adds more of something, then tastes again.
And as a recipe writer, I love the fact that French cooks and published recipes sometimes call for vague quantities of things. It’s something that would drive any measure-happy cook insane. In French recipes, a teaspoon is called une cuillère à café (a coffee spoon) and a tablespoon is une cuillère à soupe (a soup spoon.)**
The most important thing to a good bowl of carottes râpées is the size of les carottes. “Daveed, it is very important to grate the carrots très fin!“, which his mother, who was standing right behind him in the kitchen, said, “Oui! Oui!…c’est très importante!”
So you want to begin with seven large carrots.
Peel and grate them in fine shreds using a hand grater or machine. I guess you could leave them unpeeled, but I’ve never seen unpeeled carrots served in Paris. But it’s your call if you live elsewhere. Here, you gotta play by their rules, whether you like it or not.
Then chop a half bunch of flat leaf parsley, leaving it coarse. You don’t want green powder, you want flakes of vibrant, earthy parsley.
Make a dressing by mixing together the juice of two lemons, 2 to 3 soup spoons of olive oil, 1 to 2 coffee spoons of sugar (teaspoons), some salt, and freshly ground pepper. You can use a French juice glass with cartoon characters on it, if you want to be truly authentic.
Personally, I would add a dab of Dijon mustard, but have learned not to interfere when Romain is telling me something. I just nod, and let him keep going since I’ve learned that when Parisians are speaking, it’s best to just let them keep going. If you do ever if you do manage to get a word in, they won’t listen until they’re done anyways, so why even bother.
Especially one in particular…
Toss the dressing with the carrots really well, then taste. If you have a fork, great.
If not, don’t be afraid to use your fingers.
Adjust the seasonings at this point.
The carrots may need another hit of lemon or salt or olive oil. Don’t overdress the salad; the carrots should be moistened and glistening, not swimming in dressing.
Once mixed, serve the carrot salad shortly thereafter. This feeds six to eight people as a side dish. If you want to make this advance, prepare the carrots and dressing separately, and mix together as close to serving time as possible.
*It’s funny that we call someone “very” something. I mean, it’s not like there’s degrees of a nationality. In Romain’s case, even though I think he’s actually Italian, if you look in the dictionary under “Parisian”, you’ll see a picture of him there because he is, indeed, very Parisian. Unfortunately, there’s no picture of my aforementioned friend’s boyfriend, since he’s a pompier, or French firefighter. And yes, I looked.
And nowadays, in France, if they’re referring to something like a hamburger, it’s trendy for an advertisement to say, “So American!” (in English) but leaving off the “It’s.” I know I make mistakes, too. (Although I try to confine them to the blog.) But this has become widespread and is as annoying as the term apple crumble, which is pas jolie and for some reason, like nails on the blackboard to me.