As a counter point to my post on Monday about restaurant disappointment, I want to share with you my version of one of my top 10 favorite restaurant dishes ever. As a bonus, it even fits into my “Let’s Get Saucy” series because, to me, the best part of the dish is the sauce. But, first, let me tell you a story.
My favorite restaurant in D.C. is a José Andrés restaurant called Zaytinya. It serves up an amazing pom filli cocktail and dozens of decadent Mediterranean inspired mezze from lamb and octopus to roasted Brussels sprouts and spanakopita, as well as a killer bottomless fresh pita basket (for sopping up all of the delicious sauces) and the best hummus I have found within the city limits. Seriously, I fell in love with this place the minute I took my first paralegal mentee here for lunch in 2005 and have been enamored ever since.
On that first visit, on the recommendation of my co-worker and fellow mentor (now a good friend) we ordered the havuç köftesi – carrot fritters accompanied by the most delectably amazing pistachio sauce ever. Ever. After that first taste, I made sure to order it every time I went. I’d let others at the table pick anything they want, but I insisted that these delicious carroty bites be included on the list. Until one day, in early 2009 when I looked down at the menu, aghast to find they weren’t there. I was crest fallen, but luckily I didn’t have to suffer too long, as later that year I moved to Ann Arbor for 2 years of graduate school. With over 500 miles between me and Zaytinya, the feeling of loss was greatly mitigated. Except, of course, when I brought friends here during spring break trips and summer internship visits only to still be greeted by this glaring hole in the menu.
Until last month, when I went to Zaytinya for the first time since moving back east. As I perused the menu, I excitedly babbled away about my love of the restaurant to my friend, who had yet to sample the delicious fare. Suddenly, I stopped mid-sentence. What was that I spied? Havuç Köftesi!!! My heart nearly stopped in my chest. When the waiter came by, I’m pretty sure my excitement was glaringly obvious as I excitedly squeaked (yes, squeaked) “you have havuç köftesi on the menu again!” He laughed and said that it had only recently be added back on the menu. The waiter and I quickly bonded as I spoke of my deep love of the pistachio sauce and failed attempts to make it myself. Halfway through our meal, our waiter stopped back by our table and with a conspiratorial wink, left me the recipe for the pistachio sauce written by the chef.
Jackpot! Sure the recipe was hastily scribbled by the very busy chef of one of D.C.’s most popular restaurants. Sure, it contained no measurements or real instructions save two lines about adding the water first and emulsifying the oil at the end. But it was the recipe, and it was mine!
With the quickly written recipe in hand, Ruth and I recently set about making the pistachio sauce and used several recipes for havuç köftesi from across the web to create our own version of the carrot fritters. Considering I forgot to buy the pine nuts and mint for the havuç köftesi, I think our final dish turned out great and will certainly hold me over until my next rip to Zaytinya. Will I continue to order the havuç köftesi every time I go to Zaytinya? Yes. Should you come to D.C. (be sure to say hi!) and go to Zaytinya to try it? Double yes. But in the meantime, enjoy!
1 Vidalia onion
1 cup dry roasted, unsalted pistachios
3/4 cup parsley, roughly chopped
Juice of one lemon
Just over 3/4 cup water (14 tablespoons to be exact), or more for a thinner sauce
Salt and pepper
5 tablespoons good olive oil, plus more for roasting the onion
1) Peel a large Vidalia onion in half, place on a large piece of tin foil and drizzle with olive oil. Wrap tightly in the tin foil and roast in an oven preheated to 325°F. You want the onion to be soft, almost caramelized, so low and slow is the way to go. I left my onion in the oven for nearly 45 minutes, but started checking it frequently after 30 minutes. Set aside and let cool (this step can be done a day or two in advance, with the onion stored in the fridge).
2) Add pistachios, juice of one lemon, a generous pinch of salt and of pepper, the roasted onion, and ¼ cup of parsley to a food processor (or in our case, use a hand blender because the food processor is too small). Process together until the mixture begins to resemble a paste or nut butter.
3) Add about half of the water and the rest of the parsley and process until smooth.
4) Stream the rest of the water into the sauce while continuing to process. Add more water, a tablespoon at a time, if a thinner sauce is desired. Remember, though, you will be adding olive oil at the end so stop just before you reach your desired consistency. (We made the sauce a bit thick – think about the consistency of Greek yogurt. I wouldn’t have minded an additional tablespoon or two of water myself.)
5) Once you are close to your desired consistency, stream in 6 tablespoons of good quality olive oil and emulsify well.
6) Serve room temperature or chilled.
1 pound bag of baby carrots
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh dill
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
6 dried apricots, finely diced
4 large cloves garlic, diced
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1 large egg
Salt and pepper, to taste
Dusting mixture (2 tbsp flour, 3 tbsp bread crumbs, salt and pepper)
(Included in most recipes, but we didn’t have: finely chopped mint (about 1/4 cup) and 2-3 tablespoons pine nuts)
1) Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Once boiling, salt generously and boil carrots until soft.
2) While the carrots are boiling, chop parsley and dill. Dice apricots and garlic.
3) Drain carrots and mash. Place in fridge to cool for about 30 minutes.
4) Mix in herbs, garlic, salt and pepper, and apricots. Add egg and bread crumbs.
5) Shape a generous tablespoon of carrot mixture into an oblong shape. Roll in dusting mixture.
6) Heat a quarter inch layer of olive oil over medium-high heat, carefully place the havuc koftesi in the oil and cook until crispy on all sides.
7) Place on paper towel lined plate or tray.
8) Spread pistachio sauce on a plate and arrange hot fritters over the sauce to serve.