The Extremely Useful Carrot
Carrots are in season now with their gorgeous green tops! Carrots come in a gorgeous array of colors, beyond the vibrant orange we are accustomed to. White, purple and yellow are the heirloom colors worth seeking out. The wild carrot was a white/ivory color. The first "domesticated"/cultivated carrots were purple and yellow prior to the now "modern" orange cultivar. The vibrant orange color screams health so it's not too mysterious as to why this color became preferred.
We all know that carrots are good for our eye health and vision. According to Health.com, carrots also help balance your blood sugar, are great for weight management, help regulate blood pressure, may help reduce risk of heart disease, are great for your immunity and have bonus nutrients. “Natural compounds in carrots have been shown to act as anti-inflammatories, to support brain and liver health. Carrots also provide smaller amounts of bone-supporting vitamin K, as well as B vitamins, which help with energy production. For a wider array of antioxidants, eat carrots in various colors, including purple and red.”
What can’t you do with carrots? The whole vegetable is edible - root and green tops. They love to be steamed, roasted, pickled and eaten raw. They can shine on their own, gorgeous and healthy enough to be the star on the plate as well as a supporting actor in a soup and stew. They match perfectly with sweet, sour, salty or hot flavors. The green carrot tops are the perfect stand in for parsley, they are delicious on their own as an herb or can be joined up with parsley in a dish for added flavor dimension. You might say - except for the sweet potato - that carrots are the perfect vegetable given their versatility. And PLEASE NEVER PEEL A CARROT!! It’s not worth your time, you’ll lose nutrition and the skins are so thin, it’s not ever necessary! All they need is a quick, light scrub with the scrubby side of a kitchen sponge or vegetable brush. You can cut off the green tops and place them in water in a vase on the counter until you’re ready for them in a day or two. Or you can place them in a bag in the crisper of your fridge for longer storage. Slip a piece of dry paper towel in there if they are particularly wet. And only wash them when you’re ready to use them. Chop the leaves and stems and use as garnish or as some herbal flavor at the end of cooking soups or other dishes.
Let’s look at some guidelines for cooking methods:
Steaming - cut into bite sized pieces, I suggest on the bias (on an angle) and use as little water as possible to concentrate flavor and preserve nutrition. Once carrots are cooked, remove the pot from the heat, place a little butter or olive oil in the bottom of the steaming pot where the water was and swirl to incorporate the carrot essence left, add the carrots, salt and pepper and toss to coat and serve. If there is water left in the bottom of the steaming pot, if it’s more than a few tablespoons, save it in a jar and store in the fridge to add to soups, stews, salad dressing or to drink. If there is 1 to 3 tablespoons of water left, leave it in the pan and use it to coat the carrots, swirling it with the butter or olive oil.
Roasting - keep carrots whole or cut in larger pieces. Toss with olive oil, salt, pepper and seasoning of your choice, place in a single layer on a baking sheet and roast at 400 degrees until nicely browned and cooked through, about 30 minutes, depending on the size of your carrots.
Raw - leave a little of the green stems on for a “handle” and serve raw carrots with Bagna Cauda. Bagna Cauda means “hot bath” and is a wonderful “dip” to make for any vegetable you enjoy eating raw. Also serve this with some Nord bread to soak up what’s left after you dip the vegetables. https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Bagna-Cauda-2827
Pickling - here’s a great recipe from Martha Stewart. I also prefer adding turmeric (about ½ teaspoon) as well. Turmeric is an anti-inflammatory, which we all need, and sneaking it in here adds flavor, health and a pretty color. https://www.marthastewart.com/945740/pickled-carrots
Topping suggestions for steamed or roasted carrots: chopped pistachios, drizzle of honey, chopped carrot tops with lemon zest and juice, lime zest and juice, a pinch of cayenne with a drizzle of honey, grated fresh ginger mixed with browned butter, drizzle of dark aged balsamic vinegar. Let this be a creative jumping off point to create your favorite flavor combo!
Lastly, one of my favorite soups for when I’m not feeling my best is Carrot Tomato Soup. Since both vegetables are in season right now, and we are going through a pandemic, I thought I’d share this simple, simple soup idea. I start by sautéing an onion, sometimes two (they have antiviral properties) in some olive oil and cook until soft and browned. Then I add several cloves of garlic and sauté for 1 minute, so as not to burn it. Next I add my chopped carrots (from about 4 or 5 carrots depending on size) and some broth or water. I bring this to a boil, reduce it to a simmer and cook this covered until the carrots are soft. After adding some salt and pepper, I use my immersion blender (taking the pot off the heat to do this) to puree the mixture, leaving a few small carrot pieces (that’s just more of what happens and less of a choice). I then add the diced tomatoes (about 2) and simmer on low for about 5 minutes. I taste and adjust the seasonings and top with some chopped carrot tops, basil and parsley. From start to finish, this is less than an hour. And when you’re feeling yucky, the vitamin C and B hit along with antioxidants help perk me up. Enjoy! Find carrots at the Doylestown Farmers Market this Saturday from 8am to 1pm.