The common carrot although a frequently bought vegetable one will agree is not highly exciting. The carrot however is vital in the cooking world and has in fact quite a unique history.
Always used in the preparation of stocks for their unique sweetness and colour, carrots are one of the most versatile vegetables today. They are in fact the second most popular vegetables in the world after the potato. One can see why they are so versatile as they are used in about everything from sweet to savoury foods – from soups, stir fries, risottos, stews, roasts, baby food and even cakes.
The humble carrot as we know it today was once thin, bitter and not so favourable. It is thanks to the Dutch who out of patriotic pride took the carrot under their horticultural wings and changed it into the sweet and vibrant orange vegetable we know today.
Facts and Details:
The carrot (Daucus carota), a root vegetable, is part of the parsley family and has up to 2500 different species including celery, parsnips, coriander, chervil, fennel and dill, to name a few.
The part of the carrot that we consume today is known as the taproot, however originally carrots were grown for their leaves and seeds, like their relatives parsley, dill, chervil and coriander.
The carrot originally was a small, tough and bitter vegetable that was in fact not orange at all, but varied from white, pale yellow, red, purple and even black. It was only until the 15th century with Dutch horticulture, that the carrot was introduced to its iconic orange colour and as a result developed a sweet and enjoyable flavour.
The characteristic orange colour comes from beta-carotene, which converts into vitamin A in our bodies and is best known to assist in heightening vision. Carrots are also rich in dietary fibre, antioxidants and minerals.
The Carrot’s Unique History:
•In Roman times it has been recorded that carrots were purple and white.
•By the 10th century purple carrots were grown in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Northern Iran.
•Moorish invaders brought purple and yellow carrots to North Africa and Southern Europe.
•By the 13th Century carrots were known to be growing in fields from France to Germany.
•In the 15th Century Dutch agricultural scientists and growers used a mutant yellow seed from North Africa to develop a carrot that was in colour of The House of Orange, the Dutch Royal Family.
• In an attempt to nationalise the countries ‘favourite’ vegetable experiments were made to cross breed pale yellow and red species.
•The result not only a better taste, but also a healthier version that contained beta canotene.
•Other carrots stopped being planted – resulting in the universal orange carrot.
Carrots in Australia:
Carrots are the 5th most valuable crop after potatoes, mushrooms, tomatoes and onions. Although available all year round carrots are at their best from March to August.
Dutch carrot – They are small and sweet ranging from 5-8cm. They are best cooked whole and used in salads or as a garnish.
Imperator – They are long and tapered with a smooth skin. They are crisp with a rich flavour and a great for juicing.
Nantes – Moderate in shape and size being cylindrical and blunt at both ends are often sweeter than other large varieties. These are best used in stews, stocks and soups.
When choosing carrots look for bright coloured and firm carrots with a well-shaped root. Try to avoid dry, wilted and bendy carrots, or any that are cracked, split or dark near their leaves.
How to Cook:
You can cook carrots by boiling, sautéing and roasting or simply enjoying them raw. Carrots are generally eaten as a garnish or added to stir fries, stews, roasts and soups. Instead of using carrots to add flavour to a dish create meals where they simply shine.
Unsalted butter, for greasing
4 eggs, at room temperature
295 ml vegetable oil
400g caster sugar
250g plain flour, sifted
9g baking soda
9 g baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
330 g carrots, grated
125 g unsalted butter, softened
250 g cream cheese
50-75 g icing sugar, sifted
1 lemon, zested
Preheat oven to 175 degrees Celsius. Butter a 23 cm cake tin and line the base with baking paper.
Beat the eggs and caster sugar until light in colour and fluffy. Pour in the oil and continue to beat. Fold in the carrots and then the flour, cinnamon and baking powder and baking soda.
Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 40-50 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean. Allow to cool before taking out of the tin.
To make the icing beat the butter with the cream cheese until smooth. Slowly add the icing sugar and lemon zest.
When the cake is cold ice as desired.
Carrot and Mixed Seed Salad
130g mixture of any seeds (I like sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and nigella seeds)
1 tablespoon sunflower oil (optional)
8 carrots such as Nantes, grated
1 bunch chives, chopped finely
For the dressing
125ml lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon Mustard
1 teaspoon caster sugar
3 tablespoons good quality olive oil
This first step is optional but makes the salad delicious. Preheat oven to 160 degrees Celsius. Mix the seeds with the sunflower oil, salt and pepper and spread out evenly on a baking tray. Bake for 10 –15 minutes, making sure to turn them frequently. Set aside and cool.
Place grated carrots in a serving bowl and add the cooled nuts. In a separate bowl whisk together the lemon juice, mustard, salt, pepper and sugar. Once combined slowly whisk in the oil. Pour over the carrots, sprinkle with chives and toss.
Serve with any meat of fish, or a new take on the classic coleslaw. However I love it just by itself.
Serves 6 as a main salad.
Food for Thought: The next time you buy carrots be creative and make them the star. Mix them with their relatives such as parsley, coriander or fennel to create a taste sensation.