Thursday, March 31, 2011

Eat Your Carrots!!

Spring is here and soon it will be time to think of Easter and bunnies, and so, carrots come to mind. My mother has told me that as a child I ate so many carrots I turned orange! Other veggies have since replaced carrots as my favorites, but I still love them.

Carrots are a real super food. They contain a high concentration of beta-carotene, a substance that is converted to Vitamin A in the human body. A 1/2 cup serving of cooked carrots contains 4 times the recommended daily intake of Vit. A in the form of protective beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is also a powerful antioxidant, effective in fighting against some forms of cancer, especially lung cancer. Current research suggests that it may also protect against stroke and heart disease and that the beta-carotene in vegetables supplies this protection, but not in vitamin supplement form. Again, a good reason to eat those 5+ servings of fruits and veggies each day. Carrots are also a good source of dietary fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, folate and manganese, B6, and several minerals.

Carrots come in a wider variety of colors today, as often seen at better grocers and farmers markets (see photo, right), which makes for more interest on the plate, though I find that there isn't a big taste difference. Carrots are tastiest when slightly undercooked, or "al dente", with a little bite. Though most often used as part of a base of flavors along with onions and celery for many soups and stews, carrots don't get to shine this way. The baby variety are excellent glazed in butter in a saute pan and sprinkled with parsley (a personal favorite). Of course, they are also a great addition to raw vegetable salads or cooked and then pureed. Sometimes carrots even appear in sweets.

Here I wanted to share two recipes for carrots, one savory, the other sweet.

This first one is great served as an appetizer. It could also be served as a side dish alongside your main entree but that would not be how it would be served in Algeria or Tunisia.

North African Carrot "Compote"

1 pound carrots, peeled and thickly sliced
1 large russet potato (about 1/2 pound), peeled and diced
1-2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
2 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. freshly ground caraway seeds
3/4 tsp. freshly ground coriander seeds
1/2 tsp. Harissa*
salt to taste
imported black olives
Romaine lettuce leaves
flat bread

Steam the carrots and potato until very soft, about 15-20 minutes. Place in a food processor or put through a ricer. Add the garlic and process. Stir in 2 Tbsp. of lemon juice and 2 Tbsp. of the olive oil. Add the spices, taste and adjust with salt.

Mound on a platter or in a wide bowl. Mix the remaining lemon and oil together and drizzle over the puree. Decorate with olives, lettuce leaves and serve with warm flat bread. Delicious warm or at room temperature.

*Harissa is a fiery paste that is added to soups and stews and even in salads for a little kick and is used extensively in Tunisian cuisine. It's made with chiles, garlic, caraway and coriander seeds, salt and olive oil. You can buy a jar of it, ready made, at Crate and Barrel. It lasts a long time in the fridge.

Though I'm not a big fan of cake, I sometimes get a longing for carrot cake. I find it great comfort food; delicious with finely grated carrot and warming spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves, and a little crunch added by tossing in some walnut pieces. I think these flavors work really well together.
Goopy frosting
I've tried a number of carrot cakes in my time and I must say that most of them are too sweet for me, and are usually heavily laden with goopy frosting, or lack the right amount of spice, or are otherwise boring. I like the right amount of carrots for moistness, a little more spice than most recipes call for, and a less obtrusive frosting. Here's my favorite time-tested recipe.

Christina's Carrot Cake

1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. total of either ground mace, or a combo of allspice, nutmeg and cloves
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup (2 sticks) soft butter
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups finely grated carrot
2/3 cup chopped walnuts
2 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
3 tsp. double-acting baking powder
1/3 cup hot water
Brown Sugar 7-Minute Frosting (see below)

Minimalist frosting is best,
instead let the cake shine thru
Mix together first 4 ingredients. Gradually add sugar, mixing well after each addition. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time. Stir in carrots and nuts. Sift flour with baking powder and add alternately with the water. Beat batter 1/2 minute. Turn mixture into 2 well-greased, lightly-floured, 9-inch round layer cake pans. Bake in a preheated 375F. oven for 35 minutes or until cake tester inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes. Turn out onto wire racks to finish cooling.

Now, you can either put these two layers together for a double layer cake, or take one of the cakes and give it to a neighbor as a nice gift, or freeze it for later use. If you make a layer cake, make a filling such as with dates and nuts. Works particularly well with this cake. Or, just make the frosting below. I spread it on very thinly.

Brown Sugar Seven-Minute Frosting

3/4 cup brown sugar (light or dark)
1 large egg white
2 Tbsp. water
1/4 tsp. ground mace
1/8 tsp. cream of tartar
dash of salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Carrot cake sans "goop"
Place all ingredients in the top of a double boiler. Set over the bottom of a double boiler filled to a depth of about 2 inches with boiling water. Beat with an electric beater until frosting stands in soft peaks, keeping the water boiling rapidly. Remove from heat and continue beating until frosting stands in very stiff peaks. Spread over cold cake. Makes enough for the tops and sides of a 2-layer cake, or just the tops of two single layer cakes.

 If you're celebrating Spring, make this carrot cake for a nice dessert. Those who otherwise might shy away from it might very well like this one. I know I do.

No comments :

Post a Comment

Print Friendly