You do remember the carrot, don't you? That long, orange, pointy thing Bugs Bunny was always nibbling on? You know, those shriveled brown vegetables down in the vegetable crisper? The ones that USED to be crisp?
Carrots are one of those staples that we take for granted. You probably always have some around, but don't use them often enough. Nutrition-packed, naturally sweet and delicious steamed or simmered, they're too terrific to pass up. Roast them, grill them, simmer them in stocks and stews, toss them in a stirfry or on a salad--it's hard to go wrong with carrots.
After all, a cup has less than 50 calories, nearly three grams of fiber, 546% of your recommended daily allowance of Vitamin A, and 15% of your Vitamin C.
They're a satisfying snack (for body and mind) served raw, especially the popular mini-carrots now available. Pre-peeled and perfectly sized for popping in your mouth, these tiny carrots are great for stowing in lunches and convenient for the hurried cook, too. That convenience comes at a cost, though--normally three times the price of standard carrots. If paying that price means you'll actually eat them, though, then it's worth it.
Raw carrots are perennially popular with kids. Many who refuse other vegetables will gladly chomp on raw mini-carrots or their julienned giant cousins if they're available, so by all means, make them available.
Carrots have been eaten since Aristotle's pupils asked him "what's up, doc?" but the familiar orange type has only been enjoyed since the 17th century, when the Dutch developed it.
By the way, that orange color means carrots are laced with carotene, the precursor to vitamin A. It's not destroyed by cooking, so those long-simmered carrots in your favorite soup still have plenty of the good stuff. And yes, your mother was right: carrots are good for your eyes. Your body converts their carotene into Vitamin A, which it needs for proper vision.
Store carrots in the fridge--the closest thing modern cooks have to a root cellar (carrots are root vegetables, after all). They'll keep for at least a month stored in an open bag in your vegetable drawer.
To peel or not to peel? Depends on you and the carrots. It's mostly a matter of looks, or keeping the kids busy. Left on, an older carrot's skin can look a little dirty when cooked, but for most uses, it doesn't affect the flavor. To see how your carrots will turn out, give them a good scrubbing with a vegetable brush. If they look bright orange, then no need to peel them--the skin is thin and will scrub away easily. If it doesn't, and you want the finished carrots to gleam, peel them. Easier than peeling is scraping--simply scrape the surface of the carrots with the blade of a sharp knife--and it wastes less carrot, too.
For stewing, leave carrots in chunks (the mini-carrots don't hold up well to long cooking). You can steam carrots anyway you like--just add more cooking time for larger pieces.
The microwave is a great medium for cooking carrots--specifically when they're sliced into 1/4 inch rounds. Just add two tablespoons of water for every pound of carrots, cover and cook for 5-7 minutes on high and let them stand for a minutes before removing them from the microwave.
Oven roasting brings out carrots' sweet side--the long cooking carmelizes the sugar and creates a delicious, mouth-watering treat. To roast them, slice them in 1" chunks, arrange them in a single layer on a baking sheet, dot with butter and bake covered, at 325 degrees for 45 minutes.
Glazed carrots are a timeless favorite and a simple change from fancier fare. The brown sugar enhances the carrots' natural sweetness and makes them the perfect accent for roasted or grilled pork or poultry.
Brown-sugar Glazed Carrots
4 cups sliced carrots
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons toasted pecans or walnuts (optional)
Steam the carrots for 5-8 minutes. Meanwhile, melt the butter and brown sugar together in a frying pan or in the microwave. Toss the cooked carrots with the butter/sugar mixture and serve hot. Garnish with the toasted, chopped pecans or walnuts for crunch.
Here are a few variations to the traditional glazed version: for added oomph, add two tablespoons of curry powder with the butter. For a spirited touch, stir in two tablespoons of butterscotch schnapps or orange juice.
Carrots and dill are a perfect combination. They should be--they're in the same family. So are caraway, fennel, parsley, coriander and chervil, and all are good with carrots. Try sprinkling fresh dill leaves over carrots before steaming them, or serve cooked carrots garnished with a yogurt-dill sauce (1/2 cup yogurt mixed with one teaspoon fresh dill leaves and heated gently).
And next summer, when you're admiring the Queen Anne's lace along the roadside, thank the colonists: that flower is a wild carrot gone to bloom--escaped from those the colonists planted a few hundred years ago.