Saturday, December 22, 2012

Korean Carrot Salad, Bukharan style

A surprising feature of the menus at kosher Bukharan (Central Asian) restaurants is the presence of kimchi and "Korean Carrot Salad."  I thought that this might have been something that they picked up in Queens, but when I asked the owner of the late, lamented Cafe Baba of Rego Park why they served kimchi he explained that in Samarkand they liked to drink vodka, the Koreans in the markets sold kimchi, and they realized that the two went very well together.  No argument there.  He was less informative, however, on what Koreans were doing in Central Asia.

As it turns out, the former Soviet Union had nearly one million ethnic Koreans, known as the Koryo-saram.  Most were descended from impoverished farmers who settled in the Russian Far East beginning in the 19th Century, accelerating after the Russo-Japanese war. In 1937, fearing that they might be Japanese spies (talk about paranoia -- try telling a Korean that his sister is dating a Japanese, and then duck) Stalin deported them to Central Asia, where most lived at the end of the Soviet Union.  There they encountered the Bukharan Jews, leading to some fruitful cultural exchange that benefits many of us today.

While kimchi is broadly available in 21st Century America, I have never seen "Korean Carrot Salad" in any Korean restaurant or grocery store.  Occasionally, you will be served shredded carrots with the banchan that begin the meal, but they tend to be simply dressed in sesame oil and vinegar and don't resemble the Bukharan version, which is strongly flavored with garlic and coriander seed.  This dish is hard to find, and I have experimented with it over the years, and with aid of numerous web recipes, I have developed this version which suits my taste, and the dressing combines coriander-seed infused oil will raw garlic.  Since most supermarkets carry pre-shredded carrots now, it is a cinch to make.  I first made it last night for my parent's 60th anniversary dinner, but had to warn my mother not to eat it since she detests garlic.  Everyone else loved it, and she enjoyed everything else:

Korean Carrot Salad


  • 1 pound carrots, shredded 
  • 1/4 cup sunflower, safflower or other vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup whole coriander seed
  • 5 dried red hot pepper pods, broken up
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • Salt
  • small onion, chopped, about 1/4 cup
  • Rice wine vinegar, 2-4 tablespoons
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes (optional, I like Aleppo pepper here, which is flavorful and not too hot)
  • small handful fresh coriander leaves for garnish


  1. Put carrots in a bowl and salt very lightly.  This helps the carrots to soften, and you can always add more later.
  2. Heat oil and coriander seen on medium low in a small pot, like a butter warmer, or skillet over medium-low heat.  Cook for about 5 minutes until the seeds turn several shades darker.  Don't rush it and be careful not to burn them.  
  3. Put in the pepper pods, cook for about 30 seconds more, and strain into a small skillet. 
  4. Add the onion to the skillet and cook on medium heat until soft but not brown, for about 3-5 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, mash/crush/chop the garlic to a paste with some salt and mix with the carrots.  If you are lazy you can just chop the garlic but it won't be as good.
  6. When the onions are soft, pour it with the oil over the carrots.  Add the vinegar  starting with 2 tablespoons and adding more to taste.  
  7. Taste for balance of salt, heat and tartness.  Add more salt, vinegar and red pepper if needed.  Set aside overnight, stirring occasionally if you remember.
  8. Garnish with fresh coriander and serve.  It is particularly nice mounded in the center of a plate with the coriander leaves around the rim.  
  9. Serves 4-14 as an appetizer, depending on how many other dishes you are serving.

No comments:

Post a Comment