02 May 2012

Recipe a Day: "Korean" Carrot Salad

In my opinion, there's nothing that says "Central Asia food!" as quickly as this salad does.  Yes, plov is certainly more traditional, but there's something about this salad that just seems to capture Central Asia in a lot of ways. It's usually called Korean Carrot Salad and is in many places in the former Soviet Union, but in Tokmok, it was Dungan.  Really, though, it's not necessarily Dungan or Korean.  I think it's best described as Soviet if you want to attach a name like that to it.

It's also really, really easy and really really good.  The only thing to remember is that you have to start it several hours before you eat it. 

This is good just as a regular salad, but I especially like it with something. For example, it really perks up a plate of plov when you get a boring version.  Less traditionally, it is amazing on sloppy joes.  It can save a hamburger if you have to eat one (which is why I bring it to summer barbecues in the US, besides the fact that it can handle sitting out better than most salads).  And it's great with any sweeter main dish.

Here's what you need:

  • Carrots (I used one big fat carrot in the photos, but usually I use about 3 somewhat shorter ones.  It gets better the next day, so if you make more than you need, you're lucky.)
  • Vinegar (this is totally up to you, but I'd plan on a couple of tablespoons of 5% vinegar)
  • Salt (again, this is to taste, but I'd plan on about 3/4 of a tsp)
  • Spices (optional- more on this below)
  • Minced garlic (up to you- what a surprise, but at least plan on 2 cloves if you aren't my mother and more if you're me)
  • Green onions, garlic chives, tofu sticks (optional- you can add all sorts of things to this- I think green onions look nice, but soaked tofu sticks are popular too and chopped jusay is pretty too)

Here's the carrot.  That's a bigger-than normal soup spoon, so this is a pretty big carrot.  It made enough salad for dinner for our family of 5.  Peel it.

Then cut it up.  You get to choose how.  A grater is acceptable, but it tears more than cutting.  I suppose you could use a food processor, but that would result in lots stuff to wash.  You can buy julienned carrots at the store in the US or at the bazaar here sometimes.  I use a little grater-like thing that I bought in the bazaar.  It juliennes wonderfully and makes small bits of carrots which is best for this salad.  I have also hand-chopped the carrots, but it's way too time-consuming to get everything done finely.  If you don't have any better option, use a grater.  I'd have taken a photo of me doing the carrots, but I don't have three hands.
After the carrots look like this, add your vinegar and salt.  I prefer to us 80% vinegar because then there's not much liquid at the bottom of the salad when it's done.  If you do that, just sprinkle in a bit and taste it to see if you have enough.  Add a couple of tablespoons if you're using 5-6% vinegar.  You want it to be noticeably vinegary, but not overpowering.  Cover and stick in the fridge for a few hours.

After the carrots have softened a little in the fridge, pull it back out and add the garlic, spices, and other stuff you might be using.  I didn't have anything else on hand when I made this batch, so it just has garlic and spices.  I used a spice pack specifically for carrot salad, but I usually don't do that.  At the very least consider adding red pepper because carrot salad should be spicy.  The spice packs have a lot of different things in them (including, I suspect, MSG), but there is definitely ground coriander and yellow mustard seeds.  Those are the two spices I'd most recommend adding, besides the red pepper.  Some people add sugar, and sesame seeds can be an interesting change.  I've also tried versions with soy sauce and sesame oil, but then it isn't my carrot salad.

Mix it all up and taste to adjust the seasoning.  If you're about ready to eat it, let it sit out for at least 30 minutes if possible.  It's best if you can put it back in the fridge overnight, but I rarely can wait that long.


  1. You can buy julienned carrots in the US? What kind of culinary backwater do I live in? !! (Not that I would buy them, I'm just tickled that other people can.)

  2. I feel the same way.

    Here, I can buy bags of julienned carrots and green radishes hand-chopped by someone else at 3 in the morning. Only did that once though, because it turns out some of us aren't fans of green radishes.