José Andrés’ carrot fritters bring a restaurant favorite home

For a chef who owns dozens of restaurants in multiple cities, José Andrés venerates nothing more than home cooking.

“We give too much value to chefs and restaurants for being influential,” he told me in a Zoom conversation. “I could be arguing against myself here, but the most influential cooking is what’s happening in the homes. That is really the cooking of a nation.”

He’s not just talk. At his restaurant Oyamel, he championed the work of firebrand author Diana Kennedy, the British expat who became a renowned expert in the complexities of Mexican cuisine, bringing her to the restaurant for regular consulting gigs. He founded Zaytinya, which celebrates the foods of the Eastern Mediterranean, after getting an education from Aglaia Kremezi, one of Greece’s foremost cooking authorities, who became known as the restaurant’s “Greek grandmother” thanks to her continuing impact on the kitchen there.

“As our mentor and guide, she keeps me and my team deeply connected to the Mediterranean as we explore new techniques, expanding our menu and our locations,” he writes in the introduction to his latest cookbook, “Zaytinya.”

I’ve had the pleasure of cooking with Kremezi, too, and adore her work, which is rooted in the essential flavors of classic Eastern Mediterranean dishes: the classic combination of olive oil, lemon, dill and honey; the pairing of dried fruit and nuts in stuffings and fritters, soups and salads; the yogurt, feta, gigante beans and other legumes; the bulgur and other grains; the generous use of fresh and dried herbs; the olives, peppers, sumac and saffron. Much like Kremezi herself, Zaytinya isn’t vegetarian, but vegetables play a starring role on its tables.

Of course, the defining characteristic of much of the region’s food is that it is served as mezze, a collection of small plates akin to Spain’s tapas. Andrés, perhaps more than anyone else, has been responsible for popularizing small plates in America, and they are the connective thread that weaves through much of his restaurant empire.

One of the most popular such dishes at Zaytinya is the carrot fritters, incredible sweet and savory bites, slightly crispy on the outside and creamy inside, nestled in an intoxicatingly delicious pistachio sauce. Unlike many other vegetable fritters beloved in the Greek kitchen, these are formed into balls, and they come together much like falafel, with very little to bind them except a single egg and panko flakes.

Andrés first tasted them in Istanbul, but added the pistachio sauce once they went onto the Zaytinya menu. It was a chef’s modern touch, but perfectly in keeping with traditional flavors — and the region’s love for such dips as hummus, tzatziki, muhammara, fata spread and more.

In our Zoom interview, he talked about how intertwined the foods of the Eastern Mediterranean nations are. “I just came from a taverna in Cyprus — Cyprus, which is divided between the Greek side and the Turkish side,” he said. “They are divided politically, but they are not divided in the love for the foods and their history that brings them together. I wish that the only wars we were fighting were about who makes the best hummus, who makes the best falafel, or who makes the best tzatziki or cacik. Oh, my God, the world would be a beautiful place.” (Coincidentally, Andrés and I were talking right before he fielded questions from another Post reporter about his World Central Kitchen’s aid ship heading to another conflict zone: Gaza.)

Thanks to the “Zaytinya” cookbook, you can bring all these dishes to your home kitchen, and you’ll see, if you don’t know already, just how accessible and delicious they are to make from scratch. In the case of the fritters, the ingredient list might look long, but much of it consists of the spices and herbs that flavor the carrot mixture, which you pulse in a food processor and scoop like cookie dough before frying. Good news for you air-fryer users: These work quite well that way, if you don’t want to deal with the oil.

While the pistachio sauce was originally a restaurant embellishment, once you taste it you’ll wonder why Turkish carrot fritters aren’t always served this way. Maybe chefs have some influence after all.

Carrot Fritters With Pistachio Sauce

You’ll end up with more of the rich pistachio sauce than you need for this recipe, but you’ll be glad to have it, as it’s as thick — and delectable — as a great hummus, good for dipping into with raw vegetables. The fritters are particularly well suited to the air fryer; see Variations for instructions.

Make ahead: The pistachio sauce can be made and refrigerated for up to 3 days before serving with the fritters. The balls of carrot mixture can be refrigerated for up to 3 days before frying. Bring both to room temperature before frying the fritters.

Storage: Refrigerate the fritters and sauce separately for up to 4 days.

For the sauce

1 1/4 cups (5 3/4 ounces) raw shelled pistachios, plus more for garnish

3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided

1/2 medium yellow onion (4 ounces total), thinly sliced

1/2 garlic clove, chopped

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

1/2 cup lightly packed fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped

3/4 teaspoon fine salt

1/4 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

Water, as needed

For the fritters

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

5 medium carrots (1 1/4 pounds), scrubbed, trimmed and cut into 1/4-inch slices

2 tablespoons water, plus more if needed

1 cup lightly packed fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped, plus leaves for garnish

1/2 cup panko, plus more if needed

3 dried apricot halves, quartered

2 scallions, trimmed and chopped

1 large egg

1/2 garlic clove, chopped

1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill

1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint, plus leaves for garnish

3/4 teaspoon fine salt

1/4 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

3 tablespoons pine nuts

2 cups canola oil or other neutral oil, for frying

Make the sauce: Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees. Spread the pistachios on a small sheet pan and toast, tossing occasionally, 8 to 10 minutes, or until fragrant and lightly browned.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium heat, warm 1 tablespoon of the olive oil until it shimmers. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and lightly golden, 5 minutes.

Transfer the toasted pistachios and onions to a blender, and add the garlic, lemon juice, parsley, salt and peppercorns. Pulse a few times until the mixture is chopped evenly. With the motor running, pour in the remaining 3/4 cup of olive oil and blend on HIGH until the mixture is smooth, about 2 minutes. If needed, add water, a few tablespoons at a time, to achieve a consistency similar to hummus. You should have about 2 cups sauce; reserve 1/2 cup to use in this recipe and refrigerate the remainder for another use.

Make the fritters: Set the same skillet you used for the onions over medium heat and warm the olive oil until it shimmers. Add the carrots and cook, stirring often, just until they start to soften, 5 minutes. Add the water, cover the skillet and let the carrots steam until they are easily mashed with a fork, about 10 minutes, adding more water if needed. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly.

Transfer the carrots to a food processor and add the parsley, panko, apricots, scallions, egg, garlic, dill, mint, salt, paprika, cayenne and black pepper. Pulse several times, scraping down the sides periodically, until the mixture is coarsely ground and holds together when pinched. Add a little more panko, up to 1 tablespoon, if the mixture seems too wet. Add the pine nuts and pulse once or twice, just to mix.

In a large Dutch oven or other deep pot over medium heat, heat the canola oil until it registers 350 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. (If you don’t have an instant-read thermometer, drop a tiny bit of the batter into the oil and if it sizzles immediately, the oil is ready.) Set a wire rack over a large sheet pan next to the stovetop.

While the oil heats, scoop 2-tablespoon portions (scant 1 1/4 ounces or 33 grams) of the carrot mixture and form them into balls, setting them on a plate as you go.

When the oil is hot, carefully slide half of the carrot balls into the oil and fry until deeply browned and crisp, 4 to 5 minutes, turning halfway through. Use a wire skimmer or slotted spoon to transfer the fritters to the wire rack to drain. Let the oil return to 350 degrees, then repeat with the remaining fritters.

To serve, spread 1/2 cup of the pistachio sauce on a large serving platter, nestle the fritters on top, and garnish with chopped pistachios, mint leaves and parsley.

Substitutions: Vegan? Use liquid egg replacer instead of the egg. Gluten-free? Use gluten-free panko. Instead of dried apricots use prunes.

Variations: To make this in an air fryer, set the air fryer to 400 degrees and preheat until the appliance signals it’s ready. Spray the carrot balls all over with cooking spray, and add them to the basket in one layer, ensuring that none of the pieces touch. Air fry for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the fritters are browned and crisp, turning them halfway through.

Serves 4 (makes about 20 fritters)

Nutrition per serving (5 fritters plus 2 Tbsp. sauce): 424 calories, 27g carbohydrates, 47mg cholesterol, 34g fat, 7g fiber, 7g protein, 4g saturated fat, 697mg sodium, 11g sugar

— Adapted from “Zaytinya” by José Andrés (Ecco, 2024).

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