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Friday, February 23

Gapers Block

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Community supported agriculture (CSA) food boxes are a great way to force yourself to try new vegetables. If you've never had a rutabaga before, but you find yourself getting one every week in your box, you'll soon feel guilty enough to figure out what to do with that wrinkly knob of vegetable matter sitting in your crisper.

A reader recently emailed me and described the pain of getting bunch after bunch of carrots from a CSA. Sure carrot soup is delicious, and so is carrot bread, but honestly, what else does one do with carrots besides steam them and serve them with a little butter, salt, and pepper?

I had to do a fair amount of research for this column because I don't cook carrots very often. I eat them in salads and will occasionally roast them, but otherwise, they're just not a common ingredient in our house. I also happen to live with a man who frequently turns up his nose at cooked carrots. His father has tried to convince me that many people are born with a hereditary gene that makes them dislike carrots. I've found no proof of this, so I've chalked it up to him just disliking this root vegetable that is inexpensive and lasts for a long time in the fridge.

If you're buying fresh carrots, look for carrots that have smooth skin, don't have mold growing around the stem, aren't hairy, and seem firm instead of limp. To keep them lasting a long time in your fridge, cut off the green tops and store them in a plastic bag. They should keep for several weeks in your crisper. Or even months if you've got a box of sand in your root cellar.

One carrot has 330 percent of your recommended daily allowance of Vitamin A, 3 grams of fiber and 1 gram of protein. They contain no fat, 40 calories, and 9 grams of carbohydrates.

If you look at the leaves of carrots, you'll realize they resemble parsley, which they're closely related to. The vegetable originated in Afghanistan and slowly spread across Europe and eventually to England in the 1400s. They were such an oddity and a delicacy that fancy English ladies would frequently be seen with a sprig of carrot stem sticking out of her hair as a decoration. (I seriously couldn't invent this stuff, folks. Food history is freakishly amazing.)

And now that you know why they're good for you, how to buy them, and how to store them (or wear them) I'll tell you how to cook them. Or not cook with them, since this first recipe is delicious without a bit of cooking. Carrot and Peanut Salad is a great recipe to keep in mind for summer days. For an easy side dish, Carrot Slices with Rosemary is quick to prepare and tasty, too. And if you've ordered a salad at a Japanese restaurant, chances are that you've gotten a Carrot and Ginger Dressing on top of it. My mom would make Carmelized Carrots to get us to eat them when were young. And since beets are easy to get, and also likely to appear in your CSA box, I'm including a recipe for a Shredded Carrot and Beet Salad.

Carrot and Peanut Salad
2 cups of grated carrots (about 3 medium-sized carrots)
1/2 cup of salted peanuts, chopped
juice from 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon of honey
1 jalapeno that has been seeded and minced
2 tablespoons of finely chopped fresh cilantro
salt to taste

Toss the carrots and peanuts in a medium-sized serving bowl until they're evenly distributed. In a separate bowl, whisk together the lemon, honey, jalapeno and cilantro. Pour this mixture over the carrots and stir to coat. Taste a carrot to see if more salt is needed. You can either serve immediately, or you can let it refrigerate overnight before serving.
Makes 2-4 servings.

Carrot Slices with Rosemary
3 medium-sized carrots that have been peeled and cut into slices
1/2 cup of water
1 tablespoon of fresh chives or finely chopped scallion
1 teaspoon of honey
1 chicken bouillon cube, or 1 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of finely chopped fresh rosemary, or 1/2 teaspoon of dried rosemary that has been crushed
Large pinch of ground pepper

Place the carrots and water in a saucepan over medium heat. Cover it and cook for about 8-10 minutes or until the carrots are heated but still crisp in the center. Drain most of the water off the carrots and move them to a bowl to stay warm. Keep about 2 tablespoons of the cooking liquid in the pan and whisk in the chives, brown sugar, bouillon, rosemary and pepper. Bring the ingredients to a boil and stir until the bouillon is dissolved. Add the carrots back to the saucepan and cook for a minute or two to warm them up. Pour into a serving dish and serve immediately.
Makes 2-4 servings.

Salad with Carrot and Ginger Dressing
1/2 pound of carrots that have been peeled and chopped and had the tops cut off
2 ounces of fresh ginger that has been peeled
2 large shallots that have been peeled and chopped
1/4 cup of sushi rice vinegar
1 tablespoon of soy sauce
2 teaspoons of sesame oil
1/4 cup of peanut oil
1/4 cup of water or sweet sake
large pieces of romaine or green leaf lettuce
2-3 cucumber slices (optional)

This recipe comes together much better with a food processor or blender. If you only have a blender, shred the carrots instead of chopping them.

Using a fine grater blade for your food processor, or a fine grater side on a hand grater (in a bowl to reserve the liquid), grate the ginger. Place the grated ginger into a small piece of cheesecloth and squeeze the pulp until all of the liquid is removed. Place the liquid in the blender or food processor with the carrots. Use the pulse setting until the carrot is pureed. Add the shallots, vinegar, soy sauce and the oils. Pulse several times, scraping down the sides. Once the shallots are close to being finely minced, set it to puree (or ON) and add the water or sake slowly until it is as smooth as you would like it to be.

Place a large handful of lettuce into the center of a plate and add several tablespoons of the dressing over the lettuce, place the cucumber slices on top for garnish, and serve. Makes 3-4 cups of dressing that will last for 2-3 weeks in your refrigerator.

Caramelized Carrots
1 pound of carrots
1-2 cups of water
pinch of salt
1 lemon
4 tablespoons of butter
1/4 cup of brown sugar
1/4 cup of slivered or sliced almonds

Peel the carrots and cut off the stems. Cut the carrots in half so they fit in the pan. If they're really thick, cut them in half lengthwise. Pour the water into a saucepan until it is about an inch deep, sprinkle in the salt, and place it over medium heat. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes, or until a fork will go into the thick carrots and come out with just a little resistance. Drain the carrots. Slice them into half-moons or long slivers and return to the pan. Meanwhile, use the fine part of a grater to get 1 tablespoon lemon peel (avoiding the white, bitter pith underneath). Squeeze to get about 2 tablespoons of juice from lemon. Add the peel, butter, brown sugar and lemon juice to the carrots and place the pan over medium heat. Cook while stirring gently, until the sugar dissolves and carrots are evenly coated. This should take about 5 minutes. Garnish with the almonds. Makes 6 servings.

Shredded Carrot and Beet Salad
2 large carrots that have been peeled and shredded
1 large beet that has been peeled and shredded
1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar (or champagne vinegar)
1/3 cup of olive oil
Juice from 1/2 of a lemon
1 teaspoon of cumin or sweet paprika, for a slight smokey flavor
1/4 cube of tofu that has been drained and finely chopped (optional)

Because the beet coloring will leech out of the beets and color the carrots, if you want to maintain color purity, I'll explain how to create this recipe with these ingredients separated until they're served. If presentation isn't as important, you can skip the separation steps.

Place the shredded carrots into one sealable bowl and the beets in another. In a glass or ceramic bowl, whisk the remaining ingredients (except for the tofu) together. Pour half of the dressing into each bowl and toss or seal and shake so the contents are evenly coated. Place the tofu in with the carrots if you wish, or you can add that separately just before serving. Let this sit in the refrigerator overnight before tossing the ingredients together. And this actually tastes great between two slices of a hearty toasted bread with a slice of Swiss cheese and a smear of grainy mustard as a sandwich.
Makes 2-4 servings.

There are so many vegetables that have more opportunities to shine than we usually give them credit for. Carrots are definitely one of them. Our traditional American recipes for them are few, but a more extensive search on Google will often permit you to find some recipes that sound interesting. And the good side of getting an ingredient that you know you'll see again and again, is knowing that you make something horrid, you'll get to try something else the following week. If you've got a great carrot recipe to share, feel free to add it to the comments. I know at least one reader will be grateful.

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robin / March 17, 2008 6:16 PM

orange ginger carrots-

take a bag of baby carrots or a bunch of large raw ones.
if it is the raw ones, cut into circles. put all in med saucepan.
put 2/3 cup of orange juice, and a small thumb of fresh ginger or a good amount of dried ginger in pot.
cook till sauce cooks down and carrots are soft.
add butter or margarine.

mmm yummy

jen / March 19, 2008 12:46 PM

nice recipe from the minimalist from last fall, robin.

i myself enjoy the carrot and apple slaw recipe i got from that "delicious living" magazine i always pick up at whole foods.
it's super easy, and i've always gotten rave reviews when i bring it to a potluck.

Robin / March 20, 2008 12:01 PM

um, thanks but I've never seen the recipe printed before. I'd made it for 3 or 4 years. I thought I'd made it up.

Nora Rocket / March 20, 2008 3:06 PM

I can't imagine my fridge without a bag of carrots at the bottom. They go in everything - I mean, what's a mirepoix without carrot?! Like the boogie to the boogie without the boogie bang, is what.

One Thxgvng I did a great glazed carrot and parsnip number, with butter, mustard, and maple. NOM.

Michelle in Chicago / June 25, 2008 11:24 AM

I don't usually like carrots, but I accidentally came up with this concoction.

Mediterranean Carrot Mash
Cook your bag of carrots until el dente. Mash them, to a chunky bowl full. Mix the following together lightly: about 3 tlbs olive oil, 2 cloves minced garlic, 1/2 cup crumbled feta & about 1/4 cup chopped Mediterranean/Italian black olives. If you like flat leaf parsley, add about 2 tlbs fresh.

Gently fold mixture into carrot mash. Salt and pepper to taste. Top with nuts like walnuts or almonds if you like, or a pinch of rosemary if you have it.

Or, put this all into a food processor for a great dip or spread.


About the Author(s)

Cinnamon Cooper is an untrained cook. Most of what she's learned has been by accident. The rest has been gained by reading cookbooks, watching The Food Network and by scouring the Internet. Oh, and she also hates following recipes but loves the irony of writing them down for others to follow.

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