I’m doing a blog series for our local newspaper this month, but some readers had trouble accessing those posts, so I decided to put them on my own blog as well. Here’s the third one:
Eating seasonally is a pleasure for most of the year, and fall is a wonderful time to eat carrots. We all know how healthy carrots are, so I’ll skip over that part and concentrate on how delicious they are. When I cook carrots I make a lot, because they are wonderful for at-your-desk lunching the next day. Usually I retrieve my lunch from the refrigerator at my mid-morning brief break and eat it at room temperature at lunchtime, as long as no egg yolks, mayonnaise, or other extreme perishables are involved. If I plan to eat them at room temperature for lunch I use olive oil instead of butter, since animal fats congeal unattractively when they aren’t hot, but if you prefer to use butter, no problem. Just heat your carrots a little the next day, then carry them back to your desk and eat happily, with the slightly smug glow that comes of doing the right and healthy thing and getting your work done at the same time.
First, catch your carrots. Real carrots come in bunches with the tops on, and if the tops look withered, don’t bother with those carrots. Get some fresh ones instead. Your nearest growers’ market is a great place to shop for them. Here in Albuquerque you can find several colors, including yellow, the standard orange, red, and a glowing royal-purple. I love the purple ones, but any of these techniques can be used for any carrot.
I use the word “technique” with forethought, because it is basic technique that makes it quick and easy to cook and eat lots of vegetables. If you have to read a recipe in the kitchen as you work, you will eventually get fed up, but technique lives in your brain and makes it a snap to blanch, saute’, stir-fry, bake, boil, or grill any veggie that you care to eat. No precise measurements are needed. So here are a couple of basic techniques for carrots:
Blanch, then saute’: trim and scrub four large carrots or six smaller ones of any color. Peel if needed (usually I scrub well with a brush instead.) Slice into slices about a quarter inch thick. Fill a large saucepan with about 2 quarts of water, add 2 teaspoons of salt, bring to a boil, toss in the carrots, boil 5 minutes, and drain thoroughly. If you want to, you can hold the drained carrots at room temperature for 2-3 ours, making it easy to do some work ahead of time if needed. Melt two tablespoons of butter in a frying pan, or use olive oil if you prefer. Put in the carrots, 2-3 teaspoons of honey, salt to taste, and a grating of fresh nutmeg. Saute’ over medium heat until the carrots are done to your liking, and serve. The blanching makes sure that the carrots cook evenly, and the saute’ing brings out their flavor. You can vary this infinitely: add herbs in the saute’ stage; thyme or savory are especially good with carrots. Chop a clove of garlic or half a small onion and cook in the butter or oil until just cooked through before adding the carrots. Use a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar instead of honey. Add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice for a very fresh flavor. Add half a teaspoon of grated orange rind with the honey. Add a tablespoon or two of dark rum and cook it off thoroughly before serving. Or, if you have access to some good artisanal root beer (I brew my own. Just don’t use the grocery-store glop) you can add a quarter cup of it when you add the carrots to the butter, and cook over high heat until the root beer is reduced to a syrup that just coats the carrots. A quarter-cup of dark ale produces a malty, ever-so-faintly bitter glaze that’s great with game. You can also cut the carrots into chunks about 2 inches long and then cut those into quarters at the initial prep, for a different texture. When using orange carrots, sometimes I cook a couple of purple potates separaely, slice them, and add them in for the saute’ stage.
Grilling: Usually people don’t think of grilling carrots, which is a shame, because the caramelization around the edges is delicious. Just cut them thinly. I like slices about 1/8” thick. Use a griddle or grill-wok so they don’t fall through the grill, and watch them closely so that they don’t burn. I describe a Southeast Asian seasoning here, but again the technique is key, and once you get the hang of it, you can season them any way you like. Trim and scrub 3-4 large carrots of any color, and slice them thinly. Toss with two chopped cloves of garlic, a 1” chunk of ginger grated, a tablespoon of Asian fish sauce (you can use soy sauce instead if you insist,) a tablespoon of agave nectar or coconut sugar, and 2 tablespoons of canola oil or similar. Heat the grill to medium-high and spread the carrot slices out on the griddle section or put them in the grill-wok. If griddling them, turn them in bunches with a spatula about halfway through. If using the wok, you will need to turn several times during cooking. Taste to see when the texture seems just right to you, salt a little if they need it (the fish sauce is fairly salty) and serve with some chopped cilantro on top.