Sweet and simple
The word heirloom is much used and little understood. Most people associate the term with “old-fashioned” vegetables, but it really relates to seed selection.
Heirloom seeds are open-pollinated by insects. The yields are lower but the vegetables are more flavourful. Basically, over time, growers have saved the best seeds. That’s where the term heirloom comes from: passed down.
In the past 10 years various permaculture groups and seed-saver societies have made more vegetable varieties come into kitchens. The flavour is one facet, but they also have more arresting colours and textures. They’re usually denser, which is noticeable in most heirloom varieties, and especially in tomatoes.
This salad is incredibly simple. It really focuses on the flavour of the heirloom carrots, and references back to an heirloom recipe: Mum’s honey-roasted carrots.
I’ve added labne made from hung yoghurt and used the whey to bring some sourness to the dish. We often make labne in the restaurant and recently have started utilising the whey that previously was discarded as a byproduct. Previously we would have used chicken stock in this dish, which gives a very different richness.
The whey does not have so many uses. It can be a substitute for stock, and also used in bread making. For something different, it can stand in place of vinegar for a dressing over leeks.
Hanging yoghurt removes some of the liquid – the whey – and leaves a thicker yoghurt that is similar to a curd. It is richer but retains its sourness.
The remaining yoghurt – the labne – is used throughout the Arab world. It is often served with honey and sour cherries as a dessert or as an accompaniment to savoury foods. A similar yoghurt is used in Indian sweets.
Hung yoghurt is also the basis for tzatziki. I hang a grated cucumber with a generous amount of salt for an hour and then add it to a cup of hung yoghurt. To that, I add a crushed garlic glove and a small handful of shredded fresh mint.
I’ve started using Armenian cucumbers. They have a firmer texture and a lovely perfume, similar to a melon.
Carrot, yoghurt and honey salad
– 1½ cups yoghurt
– 400g small heirloom carrots
– 2 tbsp butter
– 1 tbsp honey
– 1 sprig thyme
– 1 small stick cinnamon
– ½ cup toasted, chopped almonds
Line a small sieve with a piece of muslin (or a clean tea towel or Chux cloth) and rest it over a bowl. Put the yoghurt in the sieve and refrigerate overnight while the whey drains out of the yoghurt and into the bowl.
The next day, collect the whey and add water, if necessary, to make up half a cup of liquid. Rinse the carrots if they need it and trim their feathery tops.
Gently sauté the carrots, butter, honey, thyme and cinnamon in a wide, heavy-based pan. After a few minutes add the whey and let it simmer and reduce until the carrots are just cooked and glazed.
Season with a little salt.
Arrange the carrots on a serving platter with spoonfuls of yoghurt and chopped nuts.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Mar 28, 2015 as "Sweet and simple". Subscribe here.