Cumin Chili Carrots

Cumin is a spice that everyone has heard of - Mexican food, Moroccan food, most definitely Indian food, and even southern BBQ sauces call for it. Ground cumin makes its way into many of the dishes I make, and many of my hot sauces, but I'm even more intrigued by the whole cumin seed. Pop a cumin seed into your mouth - it's warm, earthy, nutty, peppery, citrusy, and ends with a little bit of licorice. Dry toast the cumin seed and freshly grind it, and you'll find it's a billion times better than store-bought ground cumin. Fry the cumin seed in oil or butter for 1 minute (called tempering, and the key to many Indian dishes), and all of those elements become even more pronounced. Begin cooking anything with cumin tempered in oil, and odds are you'll end up with something delicious. I recently tried the cumin-rubbed dry pork ribs in Shanghai at the Hunan restaurant Di Shui Dong (find the recipe in my friend Piper's cookbook, Shanghai Chefs), and decided to apply that full-on, courageous, cumin in your face technique to some veggies. 


Carrots never bore me - I love that they transform from something raw, crisp, light, and delicious, to something custardy, hearty, and even more delicious. They are the perfect vehicle for light sauces or heavy seasoning, and even though it feels like I should be capitalizing on strictly summer fruits and veggies right now, the idea of cumin seeds with carrots beckoned me - I could not get the idea out of my head. This recipe centers around garlic and cumin braised sweet and hot chili peppers, whole cumin seeds dotting charred carrots, and a light, tangy, herbed yogurt sauce to pull it all together and balance the heat. 

cumin chili carrots
2 bunches carrots
1 tbsp + 1 tsp cumin seeds
8 sweet red chili peppers (i.e. Italian frying peppers, Jimmy Nardello, the long peppers pictured)
2 hot fresno red chili peppers
10 cloves garlic
Olive oil

herb yogurt sauce
1 cup minced carrot tops (without stems)
1 cup minced cilantro
3/4 cup olive oil
3/4 cup greek yogurt
2 tbsp tahini
3 tbsp champagne vinegar
1/2-3/4 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Pour olive oil into a baking dish, so chili peppers can be mostly submerged (okay if not fully submerged). Place olive oil alone in the hot oven for 15 minutes. While the oil heats up, remove carrot tops from carrots and soak tops in water. Wash carrots. Halve carrots, and then quarter lengthwise until you have mostly equal size carrot strips, about 3" long and a thumbnail wide. Rinse carrot tops and remove leaves, mince.


Remove olive oil from oven. In baking dish, pour in 1 tbsp cumin seeds, 10 cloves garlic, and chili peppers. Place back in the oven for 18-20 minutes until moderately shriveled, but with no significant color change. (If chili peppers not fully submerged, flip at 10 minutes). Remove chili peppers from oil and drain on a kitchen towel, chop when cool enough to handle.

Pour 2 tbsp of cumin oil from baking dish onto cut carrots, along with 3/4 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp black pepper, and toss thoroughly. On a piping hot cast-iron skillet, lay carrots onto skillet in a single layer and sprinkle cumin seeds on top. May need to do this in two batches, and if so, divide cumin seeds appropriately. Do not move carrots for 2 minutes. Place in 400 degree oven for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, remove skillet and stir carrots. Place in the oven for another 5 minutes.

While the carrots cook. make the herb sauce by blending all the ingredients together in a blender until mostly smooth - speckles of herbs are ok. May need to add bits of water if tahini causes the mixture to become too thick. Start by adding 1/2 tsp of salt and add more to your taste. 

Remove carrots from oven, mix in chopped chili mixture, making sure hot peppers and sweet peppers are equally divided. Generously drizzle yogurt sauce over the carrots and serve immediately. Serves 4 as a side dish.