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.

Carrot-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 oil
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.