Carrots: a closer look

In Season

November 15, 2006|By Joe Gray and Kate Shatzkin

How we take carrots for granted.

We munch them unthinkingly all year long, counting on them to be ever-present at the markets as other vegetables come and go. When fall comes around, they're eclipsed by other root vegetables like sweet potatoes and parsnips, more distinctive harbingers of the season.

But the common carrot still holds a few surprises. Though we think of it as bright orange, this member of the parsley family is sometimes sunny yellow or dark red or even purple. What we didn't know is that all these colors -- even orange -- have been bred in, according to Barbara Kafka in her book Vegetable Love. The originals were white!

Carrots with unusual hues have been popping up in grocery stores and farmers' markets in the past few years, leading to the oft-overheard question, "What are those?" They may be new to us, but are found in their varied hues around the world, according to Kafka. One variety, called maroon carrots, has a sweeter taste than regular carrots, Kafka says.

Whatever the color, carrots are excellent sources of vitamin A and are low in calories. And they make a solid Thanksgiving supporting player, whether in a simple starter soup or as part of a colorful root vegetable melange.

Joe Gray writes for the Chicago Tribune, which supplied the recipe analysis. Kate Shatzkin is a reporter for The Sun.

SPICED ORGANIC CARROT SOUP

SERVES 4

Chef Bruce Sherman of Chicago's North Pond restaurant developed this soup flavored with ginger and coriander.

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 shallot, thinly sliced

1 clove garlic, chopped

1 piece (1 / 2 inch long) ginger root, chopped

1 / 2 rib celery, thinly sliced

1 pound organic carrots, thinly sliced

1 head fennel, white bulb only, cored, thinly sliced

1 / 2 teaspoon each: salt,

freshly ground pepper

1 / 2 teaspoon ground coriander

2 cans (14-1 / 2 ounces each) chicken broth

1 / 2 stick (1 / 4 cup) butter, cubed

Heat the oil in a heavy, medium saucepan over medium-high heat; add shallot, garlic, ginger and celery. Cook, stirring, until slightly softened, but not browned, about 2 minutes. Stir in the carrots, fennel, salt and pepper. Cook until the carrots and fennel begin to soften but do not brown, about 6 minutes.

Stir in the coriander; cook, stirring, 1 minute. Stir in the chicken broth. Heat to a boil; reduce heat to a simmer. Cook until the carrots and fennel pieces can be easily mashed, about 25 minutes.

Puree the vegetable mixture in a blender or food processor. Pulse in pieces of butter, one at a time, until very smooth, about 2 minutes. Strain the mixture through a fine-meshed strainer into the saucepan. Heat over medium heat, about 3 minutes.

Per serving: 239 calories, 16 grams fat, 8 grams saturated fat, 30 milligrams cholesterol, 18 grams carbohydrate, 7 grams protein, 1,121 milligrams sodium, 5 grams fiber

TIPS

BUYING

* Look for bright color and firm flesh. Carrots with greens still attached are a good idea because vivid tops are an indication of freshness.

* When buying baby carrots, look for miniature versions of the full-grown shape. Those rounded-edged carrot pieces in a bag are generally not babies of any kind and won't have the delectable sweetness of the real thing.

STORING

* Remove and discard the tops and keep the carrots in the crisper, where they will be fine for a week or so.

* Vegetable Love author Barbara Kafka recommends wrapping them airtight, but we have had perfectly fine results with a loose plastic bag.

COOKING

* Washed and peeled, carrots are ready to go raw. Baby carrots won't need peeling, nor will maroon, but regular full-grown roots tend to have bitter skins (if you prefer, scrub instead of peeling to preserve more nutrients). Shred, slice, dice, julienne your carrots. Roast, steam, boil, juice, saute.

* With maroon carrots, you'll find that the color fades during cooking, so serve them raw to preserve that startling hue. Melissa's, a specialty produce distributor, recommends microwaving them, which enhances the color.

* Our favorite recipe of the moment is to steam or blanch sliced carrots briefly, then saute in olive oil with a little minced garlic and salt and finish with toasted pine nuts.

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