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Vegan: Roasted Carrot Salad With Peanut-Sesame Mole

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[Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

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Editor's Note: Welcome to the third year of The Vegan Experience! All month we're exploring the vegan lifestyle, from dining out to eating in, developing a slew of delicious recipes for vegan appetizers, snacks, and entrees along the way. For more posts in the series, check here!

Ever since tasting the salad of baby carrots with cress, radishes, and mole poblano at Alex Stupak's Empellon, I've been obsessed with the idea of warm (temperature) carrots and warm (flavored) spices. It's one of those combos that just works, with the sweet-savory-spicy-nutty flavor of the mole bolstering the sweet-savory flavor of the carrots.

I used a similar combo a couple months ago in my Roasted Carrot salad with Harissa and Crème Fraîche. Today, I'm going with a more literal Mexican-inspired approach, combining roasted carrots with a simplified mole sauce, along with thin-sliced radishes, greens, and pumpkin seeds.

The key to roasting carrots for long enough to caramelize them without letting them soften up too much is to par-cook them in a pot of salted water. Not only does this soften them without allowing them to shrivel, but it also lets you season them more deeply. After that, it's a simple matter of tossing them with olive oil flavored with some spices—in this case, cumin, coriander, paprika, garlic, black pepper, and ground ancho chilies. A 40-minute stay in a hot oven, and they're done.

To streamline the recipe, I make an extra-large batch of that spice blend and used it as the base for my simplified mole poblano sauce, too. To make it, I sauté onions and garlic, then combine them with the spice mixture, along with toasted sesame and pumpkin seeds, a touch of peanut butter, some dark chocolate, some raisins, and just a bit of orange juice to bring out the fruitiness of the chilies. The whole mixture gets blended down with vegetable stock and vinegar. It's an insanely rich mixture with a nice spreadable texture and a balance of sweet, savory, and spicy elements.

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The salad thus far has taken a few steps to prepare, but good news: all of those steps can be done in advance. To serve the salad, all you've got to do is toss the carrots (re-warmed in the microwave if you'd like) with a touch of lemon juice and olive oil along with some mixed herbs and greens, and plate them with a big swipe of mole, a scattering of pumpkin seeds, white onion, and radish, and a sprinkle of hot chili flakes.

Oh, did I happen to mention that this gorgeous and tasty thing is vegan?

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.

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