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Flash in the Pan

Polymayonnaistic love-bliss

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My epiphany sprang from the crossroads of two lessons learned. One lesson occurred in another country, the other in my kitchen.

While traveling in Brazil, I watched a vegetarian chef named Jeu make a potato salad that was held together not by mayonnaise, as one would expect, but by an egg-free, creamy, orange mortar she called carrot mayonnaise.

To make it, she steamed five medium-sized carrots until they were well-cooked and let them cool to room temperature. She added a clove of garlic to a blender with a tablespoon of oregano, a 12/32-teaspoon of salt and a cup of oil. She blended it all together and added the soft carrots, one by one, letting each carrot liquefy before adding the next. She kept adding carrots until it was too thick to blend. Voilà!

For months after my return from Brazil, I dominated potlucks with my carrot mayonnaise. Everybody fell for the orange paste in my bowl. There was carrot mayo with sliced baguette, on pasta and oven-baked carrot mayo dollops garnishing my favorite meat dishes.

It's not a true mayonnaise because there are no eggs in it. But I call it mayonnaise for two reasons. One, my mentor called it mayonnaise. Two, like true mayonnaise, carrot mayo is good on everything.

Perhaps there is no One True Mayo, and perhaps this is for the best.

Many have died warring over which god is the one true God, but I know of no one who has died arguing about mayo. With some mind-expanding carrot mayonnaise to guide us into a state of polymayonnaistic love-bliss, maybe we can keep it that way.

During the heat of summer I was distracted by so much to eat, and I fell out of touch with carrot mayo. But I reconnected with it after learning of a faux risotto recipe that employs finely-chopped roasted roots in place of true risotto grains.

For all its creative complexity, the real magic of roasted root risotto comes from the initial roasting itself. The earthy sweetness that emerges in the roasting of roots is divine.

The epiphany hit me like an oversized rutabaga as I prepared to make my first batch of carrot mayo since summer. Why steam the carrots when I could roast them? Compared to the browned, caramelized glaze of a roasted carrot, I reasoned, the steam-cleaned version would be sterile. So I did a side-by-side trial: the usual carrot mayo made from steamed carrots versus mayonnaise made from roasted carrots.

The steamed version, as always, was spectacular. But the roasted version had more depth and nuance of flavor, as if the roasted carrots had more life experience to contribute. And my epiphany didn't stop there.

Next I rubbed some beets with olive oil, coarse salt and crushed peppercorns. I roasted them in a cast-iron skillet with a tight-fitting lid at 375 degrees until they were tender and made beet mayo. Again, spectacular.

Arriving home one night late for dinner, I found the leftovers: a pan of cauliflower, carrots, sweet peppers, hot peppers and ginger, all roasted with salt, pepper, olive oil and oregano. I dropped these items one by one into the blender with a mix of olive oil, sunflower oil and safflower oil. I pan-fried some steamed potatoes in bacon grease until they were crispy and tossed them in the mixed-roast mayo. Splendid!

Although the original recipe calls for a cup of oil added first to the blender, along with garlic, salt and oregano, I've been starting with about a quarter cup. If it's not smooth enough after adding the veggies, then I add more.

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