Carrot tops the menu

Photo:© Jemima Roberts

I got a bit over-excited, as I invariably do, at the market again. I always want to buy some of everything – the whole array of roots, shoots, herbs and leaves. It is always a struggle and a reluctant concession to remind myself that we are only two in our house. My heaven would very much include me being the ever-present host to an ongoing stream of family and friends for dinner – giving me ample reason and justification to buy as much as I like. Our kitchen is warm, our fridge modest, veg are at their best fresh. I have to buy accordingly. What a drag. I will have to lobby for the market to be twice a week.

Despite arriving at September with the summer’s warm days reduced to bright flecks in more fickle skies, I can’t quite let go of summer in my cooking. Yesterday’s post-market lunch included an array of salads – waxy new potatoes taking centre-stage in a warm salad with vinegary topnotes cooled off with some fresh mint.

Today too, I continued with the salad theme: a background of quinoa propping up a cast of carrot tops in the starring roles. The winning but somewhat 1980s-veggie-option combo of carrot and coriander offered up the idea of twinning coriander and carrot tops and it proved very tasty. A European – OK – north London version of the herby tabbouleh; albeit a loose translation with a few obvious diversions.

As I wind my way around the stalls, I am as likely to discover a new salad leaf or potato variety that I have yet to try, as I am to find out about a local event/inspiring initiative. It is a place to meet old friends and make new ones, to offer tips and to receive them too (my proud offering: nettle leaves can be used in place of spinach in quiches and frittatas etc and also make a great tea. But I am jumping ahead of myself – let’s save the nettle talk until next spring!). Yes, money is exchanged but it seems that a love of and respect for good food is the real currency here.

In addition, us flat-clad urbanites are often insulated against the predictably fickle weather patterns characteristic of this northerly isle.

Hearing that the strawberries were swamped or that the summer growing season has been late this year because of the cold, cold winter, offers the occasion to reconnect with the world outside the concrete metropolis and under our feet.

So, on that grounding note, let me toast you with a bon appetit – I look forward to meeting you at Stoke Newington Farmers’ Market next month.

Quinoa and Carrot-top Salad – serves a greedy two

Quinoa – ½ cup
Peas from the pod – heaped cereal bowl full of pods
Carrot tops – from 5 carrots – wellwashed and completely sand free
Fresh coriander – generous handful
Pine kernels – 1 heaped tblsp
Sesame seeds – 1 heaped tblsp
Avocado oil – cautious glug (optional – a good olive oil could be used instead but the avocado oil adds a pleasing nutty richness)
Salt and pepper – to taste
Marigold vegetable bouillon or another good veg stock


1. Cook the quinoa in 1 cup of water in a heavy-base pan (if adjusting the quantities to feed more people, basic rule of thumb for quinoa is twoparts water to one-part grain) and a teaspoon of veg stock. Bring to the boil, turn the heat right down, prop the lid on at an angle – with a peep of a gap – and simmer for 15-20 mins until there is no water left at the bottom of the pot.

2. Meanwhile, toast the pine kernels in a dry frying pan (no oil) on the hob. Medium heat, stirring constantly (pine kernels will burn quickly if left to bask in the heat) until lightly browned on one or more sides – don’t over-toast them otherwise they will be tasteless. Set aside on a plate to cool.

3. Follow with the same method for the sesame seeds. Beware – the pan will already be hot so they will quickly start to pop. When most of the seeds have attempted their jump for freedom, they are ready. Again, beware of how quickly they will toast. Unlike pine kernels, sesame seeds should hardly change colour – if they brown too much they will taste bitter. Set aside on a plate to cool.

4. Pod the peas. Set aside.

5. Wash and sort the carrot tops. Make sure they are very well washed – any residual traces of sand will result in a gritty texture in the mouth. Similarly, discard any yellowed tops. Rough chop (not too fine, but no long strands either).

6. When the quinoa has about ten minutes more cooking time, put the carrot tops on to steam. They take longer to cook than you might expect – keep tasting them after about 7 mins. They are cooked when they no longer taste ‘grassy’ and tough and instead are tender.

7. Add the peas in a separate steamer for a flash of heat towards the end – fresh peas need hardly any cooking time (a couple of minutes) and will lose their vibrant green colour if overcooked.

8. Wash and rough-chop the coriander. Set aside.

9. When the quinoa is cooked, take the lid off to cool the grain down. The salad should be served warm but not hot. Transfer to a glass/ceramic serving dish. Combine all the dry ingredients – reserving the coriander for later – and mix well.

10. Add a cautious glug of avocado oil – this should be the supporting role in this dish, so enough to taste but not so much that the salad ends up oily.

11. Add salt and pepper to taste. Mix well.

12. Leave the salad to cool and the ingredients to settle in together.

13. Just before serving, add the chopped coriander and mix well. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Like all salads, this is best eaten on the day.