I found a gorgeous bunch of baby spring carrots at the farmer's market the other morning while I was doing a bit of shopping for a cook-out that afternoon. My initial thought was that I'd grill 'em, using a modified version of this recipe. I was going to simmer them in seasoned water until tender, toss them in olive oil, then grill them until charred. I got as far as the first step: putting them in a pot with water, sugar, and salt.
I set them to boil, got distracted by my cute wife and played with my beautiful dogs (or is it the other way around?), and didn't realize anything was amiss until I smelled the distinct smell of caramel coming out of the kitchen. Damn, there goes the carrots, I thought to myself.
But all was not lost! While the carrots were far too overcooked to survive a trip to the grill, the sugar in the mix had not actually quite burnt yet. Rather, it had formed a perfect amber caramel at the bottom of the pot. This could be interesting, I thought, as I shook the carrots around the pot, glazing them in the sauce.
My mind strayed to a trip to Morocco, where I'd eaten a crazy good dip made from carrots and aromatics. Spicy, sweet, and pungent, I wondered if the toasty, sweet flavor of the caramel-glazed carrots would work in the dish.
Turns out it does. Wonderfully. The extra sweetness of the carrots demands a bit of tweaking of ratios in my normal recipe for the dip—more harissa and garlic, some capers and olives for added pungency, some toasted pine nuts to add a savory crunch—but in the end, I ended up with a final product that I daresay is better than even the versions I had in Morocco.
Rather than serving the grilled carrots as a side dish, I ended up serving the carrot dip with grilled flatbread as an hors d'oeuvre. It goes remarkably well with ice cold beer. My wife has been eating it with hard boiled eggs and a salad on top. I've been spreading it on toast in the morning. A good dip is nice, but a versatile one is even better.
About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.