About Carrots

Carrots

After potatoes, carrots are without doubt our best-known and best-loved root vegetable. In the days when vegetables were served merely as an accessory to meat, carrots always made an appearance - often overcooked but still eaten up because, we were told, they helped you to see in the dark.

Carrots have many different flavors, depending on how they are cooked. Young, new season carrots braised in butter and a splash of water are intensely flavored and sweet; when steamed, they are tender and melting. Carrots grated into salads are fresh and clean tasting, while in casseroles they are savory with the characteristic carrot flavor. In soups they are fragrant and milk, and in cakes their flavor can hardly be detected, yet their sweetness adds richness.

History : Until the Middle Ages, carrots were purple. The orange carrots came from Holland, from where they were exported in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Although purple and white carrots continued to be eaten in France, nowadays they are something of a rarity.

Nutrition : Carrots contain large amounts of carotene and vitamin A, along with useful amounts of vitamins B3, C and E. When eaten raw, they also provide good quantities of potassium, calcium, iron and zinc, but these are reduced when carrots are boiled. The idea that carrots are good for your night sight originated in the Second World War. Early radar stations were established along the south and east coasts of England in 1939 to detect aggressors in the air or at sea. The Germans attributed this sudden remarkable night vision to the British habit of eating carrots. Indeed, the vitamin A in carrots forms retinal, a lack of which brings on night blindness.

Buying and Storing : Home-grown carrots are so much nicer than shop bought ones. Almost all vegetables have a better flavor if grown organically, but this is particularly true of carrots. When buying carrots, look out for very young, pencil thin ones, which are beautifully tender either eaten raw or steamed for just a few minutes. Young carrots are commonly sold with their feathery tops intact, which should be fresh and green. Older carrots should be firm and unblemished. Avoid tired looking carrots as they will have little nutritional value. Carrots should not be stored for too long. They will keep for several days if stored in a cool, airy place or in the salad drawer of the fridge.

Preparing : Preparation depends on the age of the carrots. The valuable nutrients lie either in or just beneath the skin, so if the carrots are young, simply wash them under cold running water. Medium-size carrots may need to be scraped and large carrots will need either scraping or peeling.

Cooking : Carrots are excellent cooked or raw. Children often like raw carrots as they have a very sweet flavor. They can be cut into julienne strips, with a dressing added, or grated into salads and coleslaw - their juices run and blend wonderfully with the dressing. Carrots can be cooked in almost any way you choose. As an accompaniment, cut them into julienne strips and braise in butter and cider, or cook in the minimum of stock and toss in butter and a sprinkling of caraway seeds. Roasted carrots are delicious, with a melt-in-the-mouth sweetness. Par-boil large ones first, but younger carrots can be quickly blanched or added direct to the pan with a joint of meat.

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