Sometimes a side dish can make the meal

Entertaining

Add sweetness, depth to flavor of carrots with cumin, orange and honey

Sunday Gourmet

October 24, 2004|By Betty Rosbottom | By Betty Rosbottom,Tribune Media Services

When planning a menu for a company dinner, I usually select the main course first then think about the side dishes. But sometimes it works the other way around, and an accompaniment becomes inspiration for a meal.

In a quandary over what to serve at a casual supper for friends, I was exploring my files in search of ideas when I came across a recipe for honey-glazed carrots seasoned with cumin and orange. I created the recipe last winter after tasting a similar version in Paris, but I had tucked my notes away and forgotten them. With cool autumn weather in full swing, it was a perfect time to serve this robust dish and so it became the starting point of my menu.

Using baby carrots is a big advantage, since they are sold peeled. I halve the carrots to create bite-sized pieces, parboil them until tender, then saute them in butter.

The secret of the dish, however, lies in a trio of assertive seasonings. Toasted cumin seeds, honey and orange are the vibrant accents that make the carrots taste wonderful. A hint of balsamic vinegar balances the sweetness of the orange and honey. The carrots are cooked until the liquids reduce and form a translucent glaze.

What to serve with the delectable carrots was my next decision.

Roasted pork tenderloins or a baked ham were possibilities, grilled steaks or lamb chops were others, and roast chicken or Cornish hens also came to mind. I finally decided on chicken roasted with garlic. For a second side dish, a wild rice pilaf seemed a good choice.

One of my assistants, who took the carrot recipe home to test one night, called with a report a few days later. She had discovered her husband, who rarely has a kind word for vegetables, enthusiastically eating the leftover carrots cold, straight from the refrigerator.

Carrots With Honey, Cumin and Orange

Makes 6 servings

2 pounds peeled baby carrots

Kosher salt

2 tablespoons cumin seeds

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons honey

1/4 cup orange juice

2 teaspoons grated orange zest

2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

2 teaspoons chopped flat-leaf parsley or chives

Halve carrots crosswise, cutting on a sharp diagonal. Bring a large (4-quart or bigger) pot of water to a boil and add 1 tablespoon salt and carrots. Bring water to a boil again and cook until carrots are just tender when pierced with a sharp knife, 3 minutes to 4 minutes. Remove, drain in a colander, and pat dry.

Toast cumin seeds in a small skillet over medium heat until browned and fragrant. Cool completely, then crush by putting in a plastic bag and pounding with a meat pounder or rolling pin, or crush with a mortar and pestle.

Heat butter in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat until melted and hot. Add carrots and cumin, and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add honey, orange juice, orange zest and balsamic vinegar to taste, and stir well to mix. Cook until almost all liquids have evaporated and carrots have a syrupy glaze, about 4 minutes.

Taste and season generously with at least a teaspoon or more of salt. Mound in a serving bowl and sprinkle with parsley or chives.

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