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CARROTS . . . TALLYRAND ON CARROTS FOOD & COOKING ARTICLE

This article about carrots has been written by Tallyrand as a result off my "I hate carrots" campaign over previous weeks!

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TallyrandCarrots . . . the last word?
I have been reading and following the last couple of week's editorial with great interest: the 'grate' carrot debate!

I felt compelled to add to it because, like David, I used to be a confirmed xenicarrotphobic (not a real word but sounds good!). The smell of them took me back to my school days where we were force-fed them every lunchtime. I would stand in line and the dinner lady would remove the cover and up would waft this stench of boiled carrots! . . . Uggggggggh! . . . then I became a chef and learnt the art of cooking (or not) these delights and how to get the best from them.

Here is something that you may not have known about these root vegetables. Their original colour was purple and sometimes white! Yep, that's right . . . purple.

Why and how the colour change then? Well, it was Dutch growers apparently who, through a selective growing process, changed their colour to orange . . . which, of course, is their national colour. Now this happened hundreds of years ago, before anyone had heard of the term genetically modified foods! You would be surprised how many flowers, vegetables and fruits this has happened to - what we eat now is nowhere close to what the original plant looked or tasted like. You should see what kiwi fruit looked like one hundred years or so ago ,before the New Zealanders changed it The Chinese Gooseberry (Yang Tao) was a far cry from the soft delectable fruit we have now.

carrotsAnother interesting tit-bit is that if you eat a diet of nothing but carrots, after a month your skin will take on an orange hue . . . I kid thee not!

The original carrot however is now making a comeback, with the purple and white varieties starting to appear again. A neat marketing ploy maybe, but it takes it back to its roots, if you will excuse the pun. Thankfully, there are also a lot more orange carrot varieties available these days than there ever was. No longer are they grown as big as possible with a harsh flavour, but selectively grown and picked when they are at their best. No more are sweet baby carrots the domain of the canning companies, no longer are they a veritable delicacy known and enjoyed by the home grower.

So just what can you do with this vegetable? Two of my personal favourites have already been covered but I have included my versions anyway, but here are a few tips, tricks and recipes that might even convert David. After all, they are good for the eyes they say . . . guess that is why bunnies never wear glasses!

Fresh, frozen or canned carrots?
Which are best? I prefer them in the above order - fresh, frozen, canned - but with the following conditions:

  • Summer carrots definitely over winter ones. Winter carrots being grown in such harsh conditions and lack of sun, do not have that sweetness and freshness of flavour that summer ones possess (see my later tip for counter-reacting this).

  • The fresh carrots are fresh. In other words they are no more than a week out of the ground to be at their best. The green tops are the best indication for this because after this time, the green will be limp and horrible.

  • Big or small carrots? The smaller the better - as vegetables grow the natural sugars are converted to enable them to grow, so the smaller ones will have a sweeter more subtle flavour. Larger ones (this applying to most vegetables and fruits) lose flavour and tend to take on a more earthy taste . . . which explains why new / baby potatoes taste so great!

  • If the above are not possible then go for frozen carrots. Many chefs poo-hoo this, but only those that are not thinking or have not been well trained in my opinion. From the time vegetables are picked or harvested, they start to lose nutritional content fast. Vitamin C is very fragile and easily lost through storage, handling, contact with moisture (it is water soluble), chopping and cooking. But frozen carrots and other vegetables are harvested and frozen quickly, efficiently and correctly, thus retaining their nutritional content.

  • If all else fails, canned carrots it is I guess. Nutritional wise, they are great but always far too over cooked for my liking and best used for soups. Not to mention expensive. But that is just this chef's / one man's opinion.

Carrots (in) Cake
We all love this one and I am sure you all have your own version or recipe for carrot cake, so I will not supply one this week. However, the reason this cake is so moist is mainly because of the grated carrot. So following my story and advice below for candied carrots, use the same technique for moistening that chocolate cake, fruit / Christmas cake, etc. Add a finely grated carrot to your normal recipe. You will not see it or taste it but it adds that extra moist feel to it!

Carrots Tops
No not the nickname for that ginger haired kid you teased at school. If you have not tried the green carrot tops (yes that's right the tops!) cooked in butter, with a little garlic or smoked bacon you don't know what you are missing!

Candied Winter Carrots
Have you cooked these and had them taste more like the earth they grew in? I remember it well until I learnt better . . . and it is emblazoned in my mind. It went like this, one day in the kitchen:

"Wellman, what do these carrots lack?" my chef asked me. "What's missing that baby carrots have?"

After thinking and careful not to want to look like a fool, I tentatively replied; "Flavour, Chef. They do not have that sweetness and freshness."

"So what are you going to do about it?" he said. Seeing my blank look he offered the following hint. "What can you put into them, then, to make them taste like summer ones?"

That's when the penny dropped and I learnt maybe the most valuable lesson I ever learnt in cooking:

  • If it lacks flavour add it
  • If it needs salt, put more in
  • If its too thick thin it down with the same liquid you used to start with - milk, stock, etc as water will dilute the flavour also
  • If it is too thin, thicken it using the same thickening agent you started with (never, ever mix them: roux and cornflour, arrowroot and cornflour, etc).

In this particular case as the carrots were already cooked, I made a very thin caramel with butter added and gently mixed it through. From there on in I used the following method:

  1. Cut the carrots either as thin as possible or in batons.
  2. Barely cover with water (as they cook they soften and shrink into the water and less vitamins are lost).
  3. Put a lid on them and cook gently.
  4. When half cooked, remove the lid and add (per kg of carrots) 50gm of butter and 50gm of sugar or honey.
  5. Allow to continue cooking gently until the water has evaporated and the butter and sugar has coated the carrots nicely. But be sure they do not caramelise and burn.
  6. The result is sweet, wonderfully buttery carrots!

Orange Carrots
No not the colour this time, the flavour! Steph Daly supplied a great recipe last week for these that you really must try <click here>. My version of this dish simply cooks them in fresh orange juice instead of water, and as above removing the lid half way through, adding butter only (no sugar) and letting the juice reduce right down as they finish cooking.

carrotsMoroccan Carrots
The week before last was a recipe for these from Stephen Hill <click here> who converted it from a chicken recipe - great to see someone thinking on their feet . . . a trait required for any great chef! But for me it lacked those flavours, those flavours that take me back to my trips to Morocco. So I have dug out a recipe from my files, which I must admit I do not even remember from where it came. It is not any better than Stephen's I hasten to add just different. Harissa is a Moroccan spice mix that is readily available now. If you cannot find the Moroccan pickled lemons use the juice of a lemon instead, but it will not give you that true Moroccan flavour.

Ingredients

carrots
500
gm
olive oil
sq
onion - small, finely sliced
1
pc
garlic clove
1
pc
pickled lemon
1/2
pc
honey
1
tbs
harissa   sq
cumin seeds

1

tsp
coriander - leaves   sq

Method

  • Finely slice and cook the carrots in salted water. While these are cooking prepare the following:
  • Heat some olive oil in a pan and cook the sliced onions slowly until they take on a golden brown colour. This darkening happens as the natural sugars caramelise and therefore turns the onions from their raw, strong and astringent flavour to something sweet
  • Add the sliced garlic clove and allow them to soften
  • Add the finely sliced peel of the pickled lemon (discard all the pith, centre etc), honey and harissa and combine well. A word of caution here, harissa has lots of chilli in it, so add to suit your own tastes.
  • Put the cumin seeds in a dry frying pan and place over a medium heat to toast them gently until they release their aromas. Add this the above mixture
  • Drain the carrots well and while still hot, gently fold in the above mixture and allow to cool
  • Once cool (but not cold) add a good handful of chopped or shredded coriander leaves
  • Place in a plastic container, pour on a generous amount of virgin olive oil (extra virgin will be too strong in flavour)
  • Cover and chill at least over night, serve at room temperature

Carrot Salad
Using many tips, etc from above this is a great one to keep in your recipe arsenal for a quick, fix it salad when those extra, unexpected guests arrive at your BBQ, as it can be put together in a matter of minutes Grate the washed and peeled carrots into a bowl, sweeten and flavour with some orange juice (I actually prefer using the liquid concentrate), add salt and sugar if required / preferred and a good handful of sultanas, raisins or currants.

There are a million and one recipes for carrots in the Naked Kitchen . . . this has just been a few of them!

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