One cannot picture Bugs Bunny without his ever-present carrot. While Bugs seems to favor carrots for purely hedonistic reasons, real rabbits prefer them because they are hard. Rabbits’ teeth never stop growing. Thus, they relish gnawing on hard vegetables in an effort to continually hone them.
The carrot, a member of the parsley family, is a root vegetable believed to have originated in Afghanistan. Men have been consuming them for over 2000 years. Interestingly, carrots used to be purple until the common orange variety was developed in England in the 17th century.
Carrots are available year round. The ones with the greens still attached are usually fresher and better tasting than their bagged, topless counterparts. Choose carrots that are firm, free of cracks, and with non-wilted greens. The best ones are young and slender. Baby carrots however, although the most tender, are not as flavorful as their adolescent peers. Older and larger carrots are tougher and sometimes need to have their woody core removed.
Remove the greens before storage since they deplete moisture and vitamins from the carrots. Store them in a plastic bag in your fridge. Some say they can be held up to two weeks but I recommend using them within one week due to the deterioration of the natural sugars within the carrot. Younger carrots don’t need to be peeled before use. Simply scrub their surface with a small brush under running water. Older carrots, being more fibrous, are usually peeled.
Carrots are nutritional powerhouses purported to fight cancer, lower cholesterol and boost the immune system. They contain Vitamins A, B, C, D, E, the minerals potassium and magnesium, and of course the highly touted beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is one of hundreds of substances collectively known as carotenoids, which give carrots their characteristic pigment.
Carrots can be cooked in any number of ways although I would avoid boiling them since the water will draw out much of their flavor. Roasting and sautéing are my favorite methods but if you must go the water route, steam them instead.
Carrots have innumerable culinary uses. They are an important ingredient to the classic mirepoix, a mixture of celery, onions and carrots used to flavor stocks, sauces, and casseroles. Instead of mashed potatoes, try mashed carrots. Just follow the same steps as mashed potatoes except the carrots will need to be cooked longer to get soft. Here’s a way to jazz up your sautéed vegetables. Take a carrot and grate it on the largest holes of your grater. Sauté your vegetables and then near the end add the grated carrot. Or julienne your carrots and add them to stir frys. Cut them in large chunks and use them as a bed to rest your chicken on while it roasts. And for dessert, of course there’s carrot cake.
Here’s a delicious and completely no-fat dressing that you must try. You will need one of those juicing machines which is a great thing to have. Not only can you reap the health benefits of drinking fresh vegetable juice but you can also use the juice in various other preparations. This recipe follows the same formula as a basic vinaigrette: three parts oil to one part acid. The exception of course, is that carrot juice is substituted for the oil. For the acid I like fresh squeezed lemon juice.
· 6 oz. carrot juice
· 2 oz. lemon juice
· 2 large shallots, minced
· Salt & pepper to taste
Simply whisk the ingredients and toss with the salad. This is an ample amount for four people. Adjust the recipe accordingly. A variation is to substitute balsamic vinegar for the lemon juice. Now for a little decadence.
· 2 tablespoons butter
· 1 small to medium onion, diced.
· 2 tablespoons flour
· 4 medium carrots, diced
· 1 quart chicken stock
· Half cup heavy cream
· Salt and white pepper to taste
Sweat the onions with some salt in the butter over low to medium heat until they are soft and translucent. Do not brown them. Add the flour and cook for two minutes while constantly stirring. Add the carrots and cook for two more minutes. Add the stock, bring to a boil, and then simmer uncovered until the carrots are soft. Puree the soup in a blender and then work it through a strainer with a ladle or the back of a spoon into a pot. Bring it back to a simmer and stir in the cream. Season with salt and pepper. If the soup is too thick, add more stock. If it’s too thin, continue to simmer until the desired consistency is achieved. That’s all folks.
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