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Carrot and Manchego Salad


A couple of months back, I was watching Masterchef Australia. It was an immunity pin challenge, where a contestant fights off a big name chef. The theme was cheese and while this contestant was busy fiddling with souffl├ęs and what not, the chef announced he was making a salad. Rarely am I so impressed with a dish but the complexity of his carrot and manchego salad totally zapped me. So much so that I have been going back to the masterchef website and hoping they will put up a recipe. Which they didn't so I decided to recreate the salad all on my own.

Matt Stone's version was beautifully plated with carrot coins poached in whey, sweet carrot syrup, manchego cheese and burnt leeks. I got hold of some baby carrots so I created a slightly different spin on it. Here is a layer by layer description of my 'shot glass' salad.

A day before: To poach carrots in whey, you need to get some whey. So the night before or the morning of the day you are going to make this salad, take a carton of plain yogurt and stir a tsp of salt in. Take a strainer large enough to hold the yogurt, pop it on a glass or bowl and fill it with curd. Leave it in the fridge where the whey will drain into the glass, leaving creamy thick yogurt in the strainer.

Carrot Puree: Trim and peel a carrot. I only had baby carrots so I used 4 of those. In a saucepan, cover carrots with water and cook for 15-20 minutes until soft. Pop the carrots in a blender with 1/4 cup carrot juice, salt and fresh ground pepper. Whiz to a smooth puree and pour into a shot glass.

Yogurt: Take the thick, salty yogurt off the strainer and add a layer on top of the carrot puree. Be careful to not mix the two layers. I found it a bit hard to manage as the yogurt was heavier and kept sinking in the carrots. You might want to reverse the layers (yogurt first, then carrot) if you want cleaner layers.

Cheese and Herbs: Cover the yogurt with a layer of chopped basil and add some sliced manchego cheese, torn into small pieces to fit the shot glass.

Leeks: This is an interesting one. Apparently, when you burn leeks, they get bitter but still retain the onion flavour and are quite delicious. To make the leek soil, thinly slice a leek (just the green part) and spread on a dry baking sheet. Put it in an oven heated to 200C and let cook until completely charred and black. Let cook a bit, then crumble into a coarse powder. Sprinkle on the cheese.

Whey poached carrots: Pour your reserved whey into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Wash the baby carrots and trim the leaves and the ends. Add to the whey, reduce the heat and cook the carrots for 15-20 minutes until soft. Because of the whey, the carrots will get a bit tangy and be a great compliment to the sweet puree and the salty cheese.

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