Carrots: not ‘red-headed stepchild’ of vegetables

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 15, 2010

Carrots are a very French vegetable. France developed many of the varieties the world enjoys today. They once grew in shades of purple, red, yellow, white and green; orange carrots were likely developed in Holland in the 1600s. They are at their peak in the markets today.
I have never had much luck growing carrots – so take my advice cautiously. But if you want baby carrots with a bit of top to cook as a side, you will have to grow your own.  Loose or sandy soil is a help.  If not, you will have misshapen roots. An alternative would be to grow short varieties. Plant with radishes to loosen soil. The radishes will be gone long before the carrots are ready. Carrots can overwinter in the ground.
Carrots are considered a superfood. They are loaded with beta-carotene – a powerful antioxidant and a source of vitamin A, which is essential for eye health. One cup of cooked carrots provides approximately four times the daily recommended dose of vitamin A.
In moderation, carrots may help the body detoxify. Studies have shown that they may also help stabilize blood sugar and lower cholesterol.
Grating carrots into salads and slaw brings out a crunchy sweetness, while cooking mellows and deepens their flavor. Carrots play well with sweet, buttery, sour, briny and spicy ingredients – and with just about any herb or spice that you can think of.
Choose carrots that are firm and bright. If the tops are still attached, make sure they’re bright and fresh looking. If the tops have been removed, inspect the stem. Darkening is a sign of age. Wrapped in plastic and refrigerated, carrots with the tops removed will last for about two weeks. Keep them with other vegetables – carrots can turn bitter if stored next to apples, pears and peaches.
Since I am not a big fan of cooked carrots – just raw ones – I am always looking for recipes to use carrots in a way that I like. I have done this carrot soup recipe (twice this week), and it is a keeper. My husband has his favorite Indian carrot recipe, which I do with my Indian meals, but it can be a vegetable side or salad for any meal.
What is better than carrot cake? Well, I’ve included a carrot cake-like cookie that I think you will like. Try roasting carrots with olive oil and honey. Trim some carrots and grate coarsely, and toss with a Dijon mustard vinaigrette, and serve as a side salad.
We take carrots for granted, but try to include them in your diet. They are always good with a dip!!

Carrot-Ginger Soup with Chile Butter and Roasted Peanuts
From bon appétite
6 first-course servings
(only 242 calories)

Chile Butter
¼  cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
2 tablespoons finely chopped green onions (white and green parts only)
¼ teaspoon dried crushed red pepper

2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter
1 ½ pounds carrots, peeled, cut into 1/4 inch-thick rounds
1 ¼ cups chopped onion
1 5-ounce white-skinned potato, peeled, chopped
2 ½ tablespoons minced peeled fresh ginger
5 cups (or more) vegetable broth or chicken broth
6 tablespoons unsalted roasted peanuts, finely chopped (I used lots of whole salted nuts. My husband likes them!)

For chile butter: Mix all ingredients in small bowl. Cover and chill. Bring to room temperature before using.

For soup: Melt two tablespoons butter in large pot over medium-high heat. Add carrots, onion, potato and ginger; sprinkle with salt and sauté until vegetables are slightly softened but not brown, stirring often – about 10 minutes. Add five cups broth; bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer until vegetables are soft – about 20 minutes. Cool slightly, then puree in batches in blender until smooth. Return soup to same pot; if desired, add more broth by ¼ cupfuls to thin soup. Bring to simmer. Season with salt and pepper.
Ladle soup into bowls. Top with small spoonful of chile butter; sprinkle with peanuts.

Simple and Delicious Carrot Salad – Gajar ka salad from Madhur Jaffrey
(My husband’s favorite carrot dish – before he tried the soup.)

12 ounces carrots (can buy bags where the carrots are already grated)
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon black mustard seeds
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

In a bowl, toss the grated carrots with the salt. Put the oil in a very small pan and set over medium heat.
When the oil is very hot, put in the mustard seeds. As soon as they begin to pop, pour the contents of the pan over the carrots. Add the lemon juice and toss.
Serve this cold or at room temperature.

Carrot Cake Cookies with Cream Cheese Icing
From bon appétite
Makes 40 cookies

½ cup raisins
¼  cup old-fashioned oats
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
½ cup (packed) dark brown sugar
½ cup sugar
1 large egg
1 cup (packed) finely grated peeled carrots (from 10-12 ounces: grated on small holes of box grater)
1 ½ cups self-rising flour
1 ¼ teaspoons ground cinnamon
½ cup chopped walnuts plus additional for garnish (optional)

1 cup powdered sugar
6 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
¼ cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

For cookies: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line three large rimmed baking sheets with parchment. Place raisins and oats in small bowl; add ¼ cup water. Let soak until water is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Beat butter and both sugars in large bowl until fluffy. Beat in egg, then carrots. Add flour and cinnamon; beat to blend. Stir in raisin-oat mixture and ½ cup nuts (batter will be sticky). Drop batter by level tablespoons onto sheets; spacing 1 ½ to 2 inches apart.
Bake cookies, one sheet at a time, until light golden, about 20 minutes (cookies will be soft). Cool on sheets for five minutes, then transfer to racks and cool completely.

For icing: Beat all ingredients in medium bowl until smooth. Spread icing on cookies.