Starting in the summer of ’99, I was a server at a restaurant in Knoxville, Tennessee, called Lula. I’ve mentioned this place before — it was the sister venture of The (famous) Tomato Head, on the square downtown — serving up an eclectic but well-considered menu of a California-Mexican persuasion. It was hoppin’ on a hot Friday night, where a mix of uber-hip and redneck would mingle, sipping blue agave margaritas and learning how to love beet quesadillas.
I learned a lot about serving that summer. We weren’t allowed to write down orders, so I had to come up with various ways of remembering the orders of each person at a 6-top table (the guy next to the hot girl wants to hold the pickled red onions because he’s sitting next to a hot girl). We were also forbidden from setting wine bottles on the table when opening them — and more than once as I watched my beloved wine tool chew up a bad cork while sweat dripped down my forehead and torso, I had to excuse myself to get a fresh bottle from the bar.
I learned much about food as well, and how flavors work together. One of my favorite menu items was the black bean quesadilla — it offered layers of black beans, manchego, goat cheese, and a carrot-dill salad, all melted within a flour tortilla, topped with crema and pickled red onions. The beans and goat cheese together were a heavenly match; but the carrot dill salad was the surprise, the little bit of sparkle, the special sauce. It helps that I can take a handful of fresh dill and gnaw on it like candy; but even without my devotion to the fronds, it would have been perfection in a flatbread.
To this day, when I eat the old frugal standby of black beans and rice, I want nothing more than a generous topping of carrot-dill salad. And since absence makes the heart grow fonder, my obsession will never wane; for fresh dill at the market can be hard to come by — and I’ve had little luck growing my own. This means that we get to eat carrot-dill salad once in a blue moon. If blue moons come every 5-6 months or so.
This recipe is made to eyeball — just taste it and see what it needs. If you pick up a large bunch of dill (my Whole Foods had them this week for $3), keep it unwashed in a ziplock bag with a half-sized paper towel, the bag half-sealed. It should last in the fridge for about a week.
This is one of the few times I get out the grating attachment on my food processor — so I make a lot of salad to make it worth my while. If you don’t have a food processor, you can grate the carrots on a box grater (watch your knuckles!) — and the recipe halves well.
- About 4 cups shredded carrots (6-8 large carrots)
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
- 2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice (can sub lime juice)
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp honey
- 1/2 tsp salt
Toss together the carrots and dill in a large bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, honey, and salt until an emulsion forms. Pour the dressing over the carrots, tossing to coat. Taste for seasoning, adding more lemon juice or salt if necessary.
Best served the day it’s made, but will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for a couple days.