This recipe for carrots is one of the simplest things I know how to make.
It barely has a handful of ingredients, and you can be done with it in under fifteen minutes, which makes it an ideal option for a quick weeknight side dish.
But the simplicity of this dish is also what makes it so incredibly special. I often find myself trying to think of more and more complicated ways of making simple things delicious. But then I taste a dish like this, just barely seasoned with little pinpoints of pungent black mustard, a touch of red chili, some curry leaves, and all importantly: a pinch of toasted cumin.
Cumin gets a bad rap from a lot of people. I remember reading a fairly prominent food writer discussing their dislike of cumin because it smelled “like old socks.”
There’s no accounting for tastes, I suppose, but I do think that it’s one of the most commonly made mistakes when cooking with cumin that accounts for its reputation as something that tastes old, fusty, and, well, like yesterday’s laundry.
It’s important to make sure that your cumin is fresh—stale spices that have been sitting around in your cupboard forever aren’t likely to do much to add much life to your cooking. What’s perhaps more important (in my view anyway) is to make sure that you first toast your cumin. A brief turn in a hot skillet toasts the seeds and releases a wonderful, nutty aroma that I associate almost viscerally with Indian home cooking. It’s deep and earthy, but with a flash of brightness, too, and it’s an almost magical companion to the carrots in this dish.
This recipe is based on a dish from Bilkees Latif’s The Essential Andhra Cookbook, though I came to it through a family friend who made it often and had over the years adjusted it to her own particular taste. I now do the same, and adjust the dish as the mood strikes me.
If I don’t happen to have curry leaves in the house, I don’t let that stop me: the dish is wonderful even without them. If you find that your carrots are unprepossessing and not particularly sweet, feel free to add a touch of jaggery, honey, or even just some regular granulated sugar to the water that the carrots cook in. Some days, I feel like using coconut oil instead the ghee in the recipe. Improvise till you find a version that you like, and then improvise some more!
A note on chillies:I recommend using Kashmiri chilli powder in this recipe. The variety you get in most Indian stores in the US is mildly spicy and has a pretty bright-red color. For the whole chillies that get tossed in the seasoning oil at the end, I highly recommend Byadagi chillies from Karnataka in the south of India. They're easily found these days in most Indian grocery stores. They often aren’t particularly spicy at all but have a gorgeous floral flavor that really blooms in the hot oil and contributes a great deal to the dish. If you can’t find either of these chillies, I’d recommend using whatever favorite variety you have on hand.
Bagharey Gaajar | Cumin-Spiced Carrots
Serves 3-4 as a side dish
1 lb carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder
salt to taste
2 tbsp ghee
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
10 curry leaves
2 Byadagi chillies, each broken into two
Place the carrots, chilli powder, and salt in a medium-sized saucepan and add just enough water to half-cover them.
Place on medium high heat, cover with a tight-fitting lid, and allow to cook for 5 minutes.
Uncover the pan and check the carrots. They should be just tender to the point of a paring knife. If not, cover and cook a little longer, till they are done. If need be add a splash of water to the pan to keep the carrots from drying out and burning.
Once the carrots are tender, if there is any liquid left in the pan, turn the heat up to high and allow the liquid to boil away till there is just a thin glaze left at the bottom of the pan.
In a small skillet, heat the ghee over medium-high heat till it begins to shimmer.
In quick succession, and being careful of the sputtering oil, add the black mustard seeds, cumin, and curry leaves.
Stir quickly till the leaves shine a dark forest green and the mustard seeds have turned an ashy grey. Take care not to let any of the ingredients burn.
Add the chillies, stir quickly till they have blistered all over, and then turn off the heat.
Tip the ghee and all the spices over the carrots and stir to combine.
Serve warm or at room temperature with rice, dhal, and papad.