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Celebrating Carrots

Celebrating Carrots

Last spring, a friend returned from a trip to Paris with several packets of heirloom carrot seeds; she knew I’d enjoy them more than pricey perfume or a snow globe of the Eiffel Tower (and they must have been easier to pack). We planted them and, as we usually do with carrots, forgot about them once the big, glossy leaves of chard started bursting forth. Then more greens came, and the beans, and  the tomatoes and berries and zucchini…and before you knew it, we were harvesting pumpkins. I dug up some carrots then, and they were spectacular in their sweetness and brilliant color.

But then the snow came, and the holidays, and once again we forgot about them. Until last week when, armed with a spade and a big wicker basket, I dug up another dozen of them, and wondered why I’d waited so long.  Some of the carrots were purple, yellow and red–the colors carrots were for years before selective breeding rendered them the uniform orange we now know. I was instantly smitten.

Even if you’re not so committed in your relationship with carrots, you’ll do well to include more of them in your diet; they’re rich in vitamins, minerals and both alpha and beta carotene, antioxidants that protect against heart disease and cancer, and they contain a compound called falcarinol that reduces colon cancer risk. You can have your own version of a carrot celebration, with these party-worthy recipes.

 

Kalte TomatensuppeCarrot-Chipotle Soup with Carrot Top and Cilantro Pesto
Serves 4

This simple soup gains appeal from the resourceful pesto that uses the tops fo the carrots. If you can’t find carrots with their tops still attached, you can substitute parsley, and if pine nuts are too pricey, use walnuts or macadamias. Even pepitas will do in a pinch, but you’ll lose the rich flavor. Add a bit of creme fraiche to the soup while you’re pureeing it for a creamier texture, if you’d like.

1 pound carrots with tops
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1 small onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 to 1 teaspoon cumin
3 cups homemade or high-quality stock, plus more if needed
1 small chipotle pepper, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1/4 cup olive oil
Creme fraiche for garnish (optional)

1. Remove carrot tops and wash well; set aside. Scrub and chop carrots, and set aside.

2. Heat oil in a medium saucepan. Cook onion for 3 to 5 minutes, until tender. Add garlic and cumin, and cook for 1 minute. Add carrots, stock and chipotle, and cook for 10 to 15 minutes until carrots are soft.

3. Puree soup in batches until very smooth, adding additional stock if needed to thin to desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper, and return to pot to keep warm.

4. Chop reserved carrot tops and combine in a small food processor with cilantro. Pulse to chop and mix the greens together, then add pine nuts, and chop again. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in olive oil and process until incorporated. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

5. To serve, divide soup between four bowls and garnish with a dollop of pesto and creme fraiche, if desired.  Serve immediately.

carrot-saladHeirloom Carrot Salad with Currants and Orange Blossom Water
Serves 4

This variation on Moroccan carrot salad uses raw carrots cut into long, thin ribbons instead of grated, for a more appealing texture. We’ve added currants for sweetness, but you can use  dates chopped very small for a more traditional approach.

1 pound heirloom carrot in different colors, scrubbed well
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oi
2 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons orange juice
2 tablespoons minced flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup minced fresh mint
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon orange blossom water
2 tablespoons dried currants
Chopped toasted almonds for garnish

1. Cut off carrot tops and compost, or use in pesto (see recipe). Scrub carrots well with a vegetable brush, and very lightly peel  them if needed. Set aside.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together olive oil, lemon and orange juice, garlic, parsley, mint and orange blossom water. Hold one carrot over the bowl and, using a vegetable peeler, peel off long thin strips into the bowl of dressing. Repeat with remaining carrots. Add currants and toss to mix. Season salad to taste with sea salt and white pepper, and let marinate in the refrigerator for at least two hours and up to one day. Serve chilled or at room temperature, sprinkled with chopped almonds.

Cumin-roasted Baby Carrots
Serves 4

This recipe works best with very slim baby carrots; use those that are about as big around as your pinky finger, or halve thicker ones lengthwise. For the most consistent cooking, make sure all the carrots are of similar size. You can also add a couple of parsnips, cut into finger-thick slices. Serve them hot, tossed with fresh minced herbs. 

1 pound baby carrots
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons cumin seeds

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

2. Toss carrots in a bowl with t he olive oil, sea salt, pepper and cumin seeds. Transfer to a large rimmed baking sheet or roasting pan, and cook for 18 to 20 minutes, until lightly browned and tender. Season with salt and pepper if needed, and serve hot.

 

Cauliflower Cous Cous with Pistachios and Pomegranate

Cauliflower Cous Cous with Pistachios and Pomegranate

When I was growing up, my relationship with cauliflower bordered on traumatic. We didn’t have it often, but when we did, it was badly mistreated–boiled half to death, in the Southern way with vegetables, and served as a pale, mushy mess on my plate. I avoided it as much as possible. When it turned up in later years, as big raw clumps on salad bars, it did little to win my affection: harsh, aggressive, awkward to eat. I just wanted it to go away.

It wasn’t until I started seriously cooking that I discovered its true beauty. Overcooked or served raw, cauliflower holds little appeal. Handled properly, though, it has a subtle, nutty sweetness and compelling bite that’s hard to beat. And, like other crucifers, cauliflower contains powerful anti-cancer compounds that are especially beneficial for women.

And here’s another thing about cauliflower: it’s endlessly versatile. Thinly slice it into large “steaks,” brush with oil and grill it; puree it with cashews soaked overnight and drained to make a creamy sauce; combine it with cooked potatoes before mashing; finely grate it and use as a grain free sub for cous cous; or blend it into any soup for rich, dairy-free creaminess.

If you suffered similar cauliflower trauma in your youth, try these lighthearted, fresh recipes–and let your healing journey begin.

Cauliflower “Cous Cous” with Pistachios and Pomegranate
Serves 4

Processing cauliflower into tiny “grains” makes a vegetable cous cous alternative that’s perfect for gluten-free or grain-free diets. Amp up the spices, or vary as you’d like: swap cashews or pine nuts for the pistachios, and use dried apricots, currants or figs in place of the pomegranates. Or eliminate the fruits and nuts, and add cooked chickpeas, turmeric and toasted cumin seed. Don’t use virgin coconut oil for cooking; it has a lower smoke point and will give the cous cous an “off” flavor.

1 large head cauliflower
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
4 tablespoons chopped pistachios
4 tablespoons pomegranate pips
Chopped parsley (optional)

  1. Remove core from cauliflower and chop into large florets. Put about a third of the cauliflower in a food processor and pulse until the florets are ground into small bits that resemble cous cous grains. Transfer to a bowl, and repeat with remaining cauliflower.
  2. Heat coconut oil in a medium skillet and cook onions for 2 to 3 minutes, until softened. Add salt and white pepper, and cook for about 2 minutes.
  3. Add the cauliflower and just enough water to cover the bottom of the pan. Cover the pan, reduce heat to low, and cook for 5 to 7 minutes, until cauliflower is barely tender. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. Stir in pistachios and pomegranate. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve.

 

Cauliflower Steaks with Tomato-Ginger Sauce
Serves 4 to 6

This is a novel way to serve cauliflower; cooked this way, the cauliflower is tender and mild enough to pair with any variety of sauces besides this zesty tomato-ginger sauce. Try black olive and caper tapenade, corn and black bean salsa, or a simple garnish of basil chiffonade (shown here). Be sure to cut the steaks thick enough that they don’t fall apart, and keep the rest of the cauliflower for soups, or to make cauliflower cous cous (see recipe). We used our summer crop of tomatoes that we’ve put up in jars; you can find jarred tomatoes at your grocery store.

2 medium to large heads of cauliflower
One pint jar of tomatoes
1 1/2 tablespoons finely grated fresh ginger
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup finely minced cilantro

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Remove the very bottom part of the cauliflower stem, being careful to leave on enough stem to hold the florets together. Using a sharp knife, and cutting from the top toward the stem, cut three or four 1/2- to 3/4-inch-thick center slices from each head of cauliflower to make the “steaks.” Set aside.
  3. Combine tomatoes in a medium pot with ginger, vinegar, garlic and red pepper flakes. Bring to a high simmer, reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 15 to 20 minutes.
  4. While sauce is simmering, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet or saute pan and cook cauliflower in batches until golden, 2 to 4 minutes per side. Add more oil as needed during batches. Transfer steaks to a baking sheet, sprinkle with sea salt and black peppers, and cook in the oven until just tender, about 15 minutes.
  5. To serve, make a small puddle of sauce in the middle of each plate, and arrange two steaks on top of the sauce. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with cilantro, and serve hot.

 

Creamy Cauliflower-Leek Soup with Tarragon Oil
Serves 4 to 6

The brilliant green oil swirled on top makes this simple, creamy soup special. You can use tarragon or basil individually, or sub a different soft herb (oregano, marjoram or cilantro). Be careful not to brown the leek during cooking, so you don’t interfere with the delicate color of the soup; you can also peel the potatoes for a velvety texture. 

1 small leek, very thinly sliced (white and some pale green)
1 large stalk celery
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small to medium head of cauliflower, cored and chopped (about 4 cups)
2 small to medium white potatoes, chopped
4 to 5 cups vegetable stock
1/2 to 1 cup almond milk, or pastured, organic cow or goat milk
2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

  1. Cook leek and celery in 1 tablespoon of the oil for 2 to 3 minutes, until just softened (be careful not to brown leek). Add cauliflower, potatoes and 4 cups of the stock; bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, until cauliflower is tender, 15 to 18 minutes.
  2. Puree soup in a food processor, in batches if necessary, , adding remaining stock as needed to reach desired consistency. Rinse pan and return pureed soup to pan. Stir in 1/2 to 1 cup of the milk, to reach desired consistency, and heat through.
  3. While soup is reheating, combine tarragon, basil and remaining oil in a blender and puree until smooth.
  4. Season soup to taste with salt and white pepper. To serve, divide soup between individual bowls and drizzle a swirl of tarragon-basil oil on top. Serve immediately.

 

Blackberry-Peach Salsa

Blackberry-Peach Salsa

Summer’s fresh fruits make a delicious, sweet-and-spicy salsa, but frozen fruit works just as well to bring a touch of summer to cold winter days. Serve with pita chips for dipping, or use as a topping or side for entrees. 

Blackberry fruits and blackberry jamMakes about 1 pint

2 medium peaches, peeled, pitted, and chopped small (substitute frozen peaches, partially thawed and chopped small)
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves
1 small lime, juiced
1 small serrano pepper, seeded and finely minced
1 1/4 cup fresh blackberries  (substitute frozen blackberries, partially thawed)

1. Combine peaches, onion, cilantro, lime juice and serrano pepper in a medium bowl. Stir to mix well. Add blackberries and stir gently to combine. Season with salt and white pepper. (Salsa can be made up to 24 hours in advance.)

Arugula, Sugar Snap and Green Pea Salad with Basil-Mint Dressing

Arugula, Sugar Snap and Green Pea Salad with Basil-Mint Dressing

Last winter, rushing to beat a mighty snowstorm that laid waste to most of my yard, I fashioned a makeshift cover for my still-thriving greens garden. I drove old tent stakes into the ground, connected those with PVC pipe, then draped sheets of thick plastic and layers of moving blankets on top of the whole thing. You get the picture: pretty, it was not.

But after enduring the sight of the clumsy thing for four long months, I pulled the top off. Underneath was a small sea of emerald green, like gemstones scattered across the dirt. My tiny farm of arugula had endured the winter, in spite of months of freezing temperatures and heavy snows.

I later learned that in most parts of the country, arugula will survive the winter, so long as it’s protected from extended periods of below-freezing temperatures and the weight of heavy snows that will break its tender stems. And it’s a fine choice of greens to grow in abundance: like broccoli and cauliflower, it’s a cruciferous vegetable, but easier to grow and more versatile than others. And like all crucifers, it contains healing compounds that protect against cancer and have anti-inflammatory properties in the body.

This fall, if you’re growing greens, cover them to weather the winter. You’ll feel pretty smug about having a full crop of greens come March. Here’s what you can do with them:

Green Salad with Sweet Pea and Arugula
Serves 4

Peas and mint are the stars in this recipe, and their sweet and aromatic flavors complement the arugula’s spicy tang. Swap baby spinach leaves for half of the arugula for a milder backdrop to the other ingredients, or toss in chopped leaf lettuce.

6 cups baby arugula leaves
1/2 pound sugar snap peas, trimmed
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon minced shallot
2 tablespoons minced basil leaves
1 tablespoon minced mint leaves
1 cup frozen green peas, thawed to room temperature
3 cups baby arugula leaves or baby spinach leaves

1. Boil one inch of water in a medium pot with a steamer basket. Steam sugar snaps for 3 to 4 minutes, until crisp-tender. Remove from heat and spread on a plate to cool.

2. While peas are steaming, whisk olive oil, lemon juice, shallot, basil and mint together in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Combine cooled sugar snaps with arugula and green peas in a large bowl. Add dressing, and toss to mix. Season with salt and pepper. To serve, divide salad between individual plates, and serve immediately.

Foraged Plum Butter

Foraged Plum Butter

Late summer and early fall’s wild plums make the best jam and preserves; if you’re lucky enough to live in an area where they’re abundant, gather them in the wild. Otherwise, store-bought varieties will do just find. This recipe adds dried plums (prunes) to thicken and sweeten the mixture without sugar or hours of cooking.  

Makes about 2 cups

2 pounds plums or wild plums
1/2 cup apple or grape juice
1 cup pitted dried plums (prunes)
Honey to taste (optional, only if plums are very tart)
1. Pit and coarsely chop fresh plums. Combine with juice in a heavy saucepan. Bring to a simmer and cook, covered, for 20 minutes, until plums are soft.  Stir in prunes and cook, covered, for 10 minutes longer, until the mixture is thick and sticky.
2. Transfer mixture to a food processor and process until smooth and creamy. Let cool, then transfer to a sterilized glass jar and refrigerate for up to 10 days. Plum butter may also be frozen.

 

Garlicky Nettles Pesto

Garlicky Nettles Pesto

You know those prickly, pokey weeds that grow along hiking trails and at the edges of your garden? They’re entirely edible, though they do require some taming. Adding a handful of purslane—another weed that grows between cracks in the sidewalk and in your garden—adds omega-3 fats and minerals. When you gather them, use gloves to avoid stickers from the nettles, and be sure to gather them from areas that you know have not been sprayed; you can also find both nettles and purslane at many farmer’s markets. This savory, bright pesto freezes well, so you can enjoy it in the darkest depths of winter. 

nettles pestoMakes about 1 pint

1/2 pound nettles (about 1 cup)
1/4 pound purslane (about 1/2 cup)
1/2 cup raw pine nuts, cashews or macadamia nuts
5 garlic cloves, chopped
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese, or 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
1/2 lemon

Remove tough stems from bottom of nettles and discard. Remove any root ends from purslane. Wash both thoroughly and set aside.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Remove from heat, add nettles and let stand for 1 minute. Strain through a colander and rinse with cold water. Squeeze out as much water as possible.

Combine nettles, purslane, nuts and garlic in a food processor or Vitamix. Puree until well combined. With the food processor or Vitamix running, add olive oil, continuing to process until smooth. Add cheese or nutritional yeast, and pulse just to combine. Taste pesto and add lemon juice as needed. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve.

 

Grilled Romaine with Black Olives and Ricotta Salata

Grilled Romaine with Black Olives and Ricotta Salata

The perfect end-of-summer meal, when it’s warm enough to eat outdoors, but not so cold that you’ve retired your grill. This salad uses only black olives and Ricotta Salata—a fresh, salty Italian cheese—for dramatic appeal, but you can add avocado and tomato to make a more rounded meal. The olives and cheese are so salty, you likely won’t need additional salt for seasoning. 

grilled-romaine-black-olivesServes 4

2 hearts of romaine lettuce
1/3 cup olive oil, plus additional for brushing
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 small garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon minced flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon minced shallots
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup kalamata or salt-cured black olives
4 ounces Ricotta Salata cheese
1 large avocado, peeled and cubed (optional)
1 pint small cherry tomatoes (optional)

Lightly oil grill racks and preheat grill to medium high.

Cut romaine heads in half, brush all surfaces of each half with  olive oil, and grill for 5 to 6 minutes, turning occasionally.

While lettuce is grilling, in a jar with a tight-fitting lid, combine remaining 1/4 cup olive oil with vinegar, garlic, parsley, shallots, red pepper flakes and black pepper.

To serve, arrange one lettuce half on each of four individual plates. Scatter olives over top. Pour dressing over salad, scatter with cheese, avocado and tomato, if desired, and serve immediately.

Spicy-Sweet Kale Chips

Spicy-Sweet Kale Chips

Roasted kale leaves are a fast, appealing way to serve kale; these have a cheese-like coating that adds protein and healthy fats. These use curly kale, but Tuscan kale is also nice, since the leaves are flat and cook more evenly; serve them upright in a squat, heavy glass for a novel presentation.

Serves 4

1 medium lime
1/2 cup cashew butter
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons honey or maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
1 large bunch of curly kale or Tuscan kale (also called dinosaur or lacinato kale)

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.

2. In a mixing bowl, combine almond butter, olive oil, honey or maple syrup, salt and cayenne. Mix well. Remove center ribs from kale and add leaves to bowl. (If using Tuscan kale, trim the bottom inch off stems but leave ribs intact.) Toss with your hands to coat each leaf completely.

3. Arrange kale in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until leaves are crispy, being careful not to burn them. Turn once during cooking. Remove from oven let cool.

4. Arrange kale leaves on a serving dish; if you’re using Tuscan kale, stand leaves upright in two squat, heavy glasses, such as a rocks cocktail glass. Serve immediately.

 

Rosemary and Olive Oil Beet Chips

Rosemary and Olive Oil Beet Chips

The perfect grain-free chip: these baked-not-fried chips are sturdy enough to serve as crackers or dippers, or munch on them instead of chips. We used red beets, but golden or chioggia beets are a gorgeous addition. Either way, use large beets, since they’ll shrink during cooking. Play with the seasonings; add garlic, toss beets in olive oil and apple cider vinegar before baking, or use coarse salt and ground pink peppercorns. You can also process in a food dehydrator for a very lovely raw chip. 
rosemary-beet-chips
Serves 4
5 large beets
3 large sprigs rosemary
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
Sea salt
Coarsely ground black pepper
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheet with parchment and set aside.
2. Scrub beets; using a mandoline, very thinly slice them and transfer to a large bowl.
3. Strip rosemary leaves from sprigs and finely mince the leaves. Add to beets. Drizzle with olive oil and toss to coat. Arrange beets on parchment-lined baking sheets in a single layer; don’t let chips overlap or they’ll steam, not crisp up.
4. Bake chips till crispy, 20 to 25 minutes, rotating pans halfway through cooking. Remove from oven and immediately sprinkle with sea salt and black peppers. Let cool on pans, then serve.

 

Watermelon Mojito Sorbet

Watermelon Mojito Sorbet

This light, fresh sorbet makes good use of summer’s abundant mint and sweet, juicy watermelon. Serve as sorbet, or pour the mixture into ice cube trays and freeze, then serve in glasses of sparkling water. If you’re the cocktail type, add rum instead of flavoring, for a frosty take on the traditional drink; just pour in a tall glass and add a straw!

watermelon-mojito-sorbet

Makes 1 1/2 quarts

4 limes
One 5-pound seedless watermelon
1/3 cup agave or honey
Rum flavoring to taste
1/2 cup packed fresh mint leaves
Lime wedges and fresh mint leaves for garnish

1. Zest limes; set zest aside. Cut watermelon into quarters and scoop flesh into a food processor; discard rind.

2. Combine watermelon, lime, honey and rum flavoring in a blender, and process until smooth. Add mint and pulse until mint is ground into tiny pieces, but bits of mint are still visible.

3. Transfer mixture to an ice cream maker, and process according to manufacturer’s directions. To serve, divide sorbet between serving bowls. Garnish with lime wedges and mint leaves, and serve immediately. Or add white rum and serve in glasses with a straw.