Feb 27, 2013

Can-Do Carrots

The carrot can trace its history back many years, originally having been cultivated in central Asian and Middle Eastern countries. These ancient carrots looked different from those that we enjoy today, featuring shades of purple coloring, from lavender to deep eggplant. About two thousand years are a yellow-rooted carrot variety appeared in Afghanistan and was further cultivated and developed into a version of the carrot we known today. Both types of carrots spread throughout the Mediterranean region and were adopted by the ancient Greeks and Romans for medicinal use. In early use, carrots were grown for their aromatic leaves and seeds. The roots were considered just that—roots. Some relatives of the carrot are still grown for these, such as parsley, fennel, dill and cumin.
Interestingly, carrots did not become a popular vegetable in Europe until the Renaissance. This was probably related to the fact that the early varieties were tough and not very tasty. Centuries later, beginning in the 17th century, farmers in Europe started cultivating different varieties of carrots, developing an orange-colored carrot with a more appealing texture than its predecessor. In the early 1800’s, due to its growing popularity, the carrot became the first vegetable to be canned. Today, the United States, France, England, Poland, China and Japan are among the largest producers of carrots.
Easy to pack and perfect as crudités for your favorite dip, the crunchy texture and sweet taste of carrots is popular among both adults and children. Carrots are at their peak in the Winter months from warm states like California.  
Since the late 1980s, baby carrots or mini-carrots have been a popular ready-to-eat snack food.  These are not a small breed of carrots but rather full sized carrots that have been peeled and cut into uniform cylinders. 
Because of its sweet taste, carrots are often used in dessert-type foods like carrot cake.
The carrot gets its characteristic bright orange color from beta carotene, which is metabolized into vitamin A.  Carrots are also rich in dietary fiber, antioxidants, and minerals. 
In England during the Second World War carrots were the one vegetable in plentiful supply and as a result were widely utilized as a substitute for more scarce foodstuffs and used in several "mock" recipes. The Ministry of Agriculture promoted carrots heavily as a substitute for other more scarce vegetables, fruit and other commodities. They spread stories of British gunners in World War II who were able to shoot down German planes in the darkness of night. The legend arose during the Battle of Britain when the British government circulated a story about their pilots' carrot consumption as an attempt to cover up the discovery and effective use of radar technologies in engaging enemy planes. The slogan "Carrots keep you healthy and help you see in the blackout" was used by everyone.
When buying carrots with leaves attached always choose those with fresh bright fresh green leaves.  Go for the carrots without cracks. Do not choose carrots that have begun to soften and wither. Remove leaves immediately if attached, because they rob the root of moisture. Carrots are hardy and will keep longer than many other vegetables if stored properly. The trick to preserving the freshness of carrot roots is to minimize the amount of moisture they lose. To do this, make sure to store them in the coolest part of the refrigerator in a plastic bag or wrapped in a paper towel, which will reduce the amount of condensation that is able to form. They should be able to keep fresh for about two weeks. Carrots should also be stored away from apples, pears, potatoes and other fruits and vegetables that produce ethylene gas since it will cause them to become bitter.     Peeling is optional, but more necessary for older carrots. If they become limp, you can refresh them in a bowl of ice water. Whether you bake, boil, fry, puree, saute or steam them, carrots pack in more vitamin A than any other vegetable but eating too many will actually cause your skin to turn orange.   
Carrots are one of the few foods just about everyone uses on Pesach so now is a great time to start collecting carrot recipes to help expand your Pesach menus.

Simple and delicious—these carrots get sweeter as they bake.
1 cup dry red wine
3 tablespoons brown or white sugar
1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and grated
4-5 large carrots, peeled and cut in chunks

In a small saucepan, bring wine, sugar and ginger to a boil.  Boil for 20-25 minutes until slightly thickened.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Toss carrot chucks with wine mixture and spread in lined pan.  Roast 30-40 minutes or until carrots are tender. 

This cake uses no potato starch—it gets its body from ground nuts.
7 large eggs
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, divided
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
zest of 1 lemon (optional)
juice of 1 lemon
5 large carrots, peeled and grated, about 2 1/2 cups
1 1/2 cups finely ground hazelnuts (filberts) or
cottonseed oil, light olive oil or walunt oil for pan

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously brush a 10-inch springform pan with oil.
Separate 5 of the eggs into yolks and whites. Set aside the whites.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the 5 eggs yolks with the 2 remaining whole eggs. Add 1 cup of the sugar, the cinnamon, vanilla and the lemon zest, if using, and juice and mix until combined.
Stir in the carrots and hazelnuts or almonds. In a clean bowl and using a clean whisk attachment,
use an electric mixer to beat the 5 egg whites to soft peaks. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of
sugar and continue whipping until stiff peaks form. Working in batches, gently fold the whites into the carrot batter.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 50 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted at the center of the cake comes out clean. Allow to cool for at least 1 hour before removing from the pan.

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