Carrots as heroes
Updated: Nov 17, 2021
"After the potato, what's the first thing on the veg shopping list? The carrot." Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
Indeed - and that's what I found when I looked up the most sold vegetables the other day when I was talking about Jamie Oliver's latest book. And yet Jamie did not include it in his top 18 vegetables. But honestly - the carrot is a true hero vegetable.
"It may not be glamorous but I struggle to think of anything bad to say about it. So let's say something good: the carrot is arguably the most useful vegetable we have." Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
Several years ago now I made a cook book for my boys based on my 7 favourite ingredients. To my shame I did not include carrots, but my second volume (2013), most certainly did. I have just checked it out and found that I included recipes that I shall be mentioning today. I haven't changed much - and neither has the world since then it seems, in spite of the huge push to vegetarianism, veganism, Yotam Ottolenghi et al.
We take them for granted don't we? There they are in our fridge - I'm willing to bet you all have a bag of carrots in the fridge, but we rarely make much of them and just use them every now and then to boost the flavour of something else. Until one day we have nothing else.
"All the other produce goes first: the fragile greens, the desiccating fungi, the long-suffering stalk of broccoli. And then, when the crisper nearly has been picked clean, when the carrots are sure that they’ll be taken next, they hear the fateful words: Nope. Only carrots." Nicholas Day - Food 52
On that day - what do we do? Invent something, search for something, or go out and buy something more flashy and modern. leaving the carrots to languish?
One of the recipes I included in that book was just such an invention. All I had to hand was onions and carrots. I called it Moroccan kind of chicken with carrots and green olives and it turned out so well that I make it every now and then, although it is probably never the same as in spite of having written it down in that cookbook I never refer to the original and just rely on memory. Here's the recipe in case you want to try it some day: Ingredients chicken - whatever cut you like - thighs, breast fillet, drumsticks - your choice; onions, sliced; carrots in chunks; 1/2 or so of preserved lemon; lemon juice; chilli; mint - dried and fresh (or coriander - parsley if you have nothing else); green olives; yoghurt
Method Fry the onions - soft or brown - your choice. Add the spices and herbs. Other flavourings that could be added would be paprika and cumin. When I use mint I usually add dried mint at this point and finish off with fresh. Just use the rinsed peel of the preserved lemon, pith removed and chopped finely. Stir for a minute or two. Add the chicken pieces and carrots - a substantial amount - and stir until coated and a little brown. Add the yoghurt and lemon juice, mix together, cover, turn heat down low and cook until tender. Remove lid, add green olives. Cook and stir for a few minutes. Just before serving stir in chopped fresh herbs.
"No-one ever ate a carrot for pleasure, it seems, until the Renaissance." Bert Greene
Jane Grigson is in agreement:
"They were eaten without great enthusiasm by the Romans, who did not even think they were good for the bowels. Carrots were not, it seems, forced down the infant Nero with the purpose of making his hair curl, or giving him cat's eyes to see in the dark. perhaps he would have grown up more satisfactorily under such nannyish attention." Jane Grigson
But they were used medicinally or even for decoration - of your house and your hat.
"The gentlemen of Tehran in the 1870s took carrots stewed with sugar as an aphrodisiac, to increase both the quality and the quantity of sperm" Jane Grigson
The health freaks will tell you all the wonderful medicinal and nutritional benefits of the carrot but really it's the taste that wins us all isn't it? All that sugar. I believe it is the vegetable that is most sugary. And if you add just a touch of sugar when you are cooking them they taste even better.
"sweet, nutty, earthy and aromatic, they offer one of the most complex flavour profiles of any root. They open the door to a hugely varied range of dishes ... Carrots are so versatile that, if you don't like them one way, I bet you will another." Hugh Fearnley- Whittingstall
And let's not forget - they keep well:
"it is nice to have a vegetable that, even after you have ignored it for several weeks, doesn’t hold a grudge." Nicholas Day - Food 52
So I decided to look for recipes in which carrots were the star, not the also ran. And I did find a few - which I'll arrange in categories.
"99 teeny-weeny carrots are better than one monstrous one." say the good people at Bon Appétit, but I'm not that sure of the truth of that statement. I also don't think you have to focus on all those trendy multicoloured ones, pretty though they may be. Plain old orange is fine, although it does have to be said that the original carrots - from Afghanistan - were purple.
Even with today's emphasis on vegetarianism I have to say I still found it difficult to find main dishes with carrots in a starring role, so I have included some major side dishes - not just glazed carrots - and some pre and after the main, and a few slightly different things. In contrast to yesterday's lack of pictures, there will be plenty here. So here we go. Persevere - there are lots of ideas here.
Before the main dish or as part of one of those trendy bits and pieces meals
There are endless recipes for dips out there. The one on the left is Greg Malouf's Turkish style carrot labne, which I would highly recommend. The other is just a representative of the general concept. But yes, carrot dips are wonderful. If I make one it always goes super fast. Roasting the carrots first seems to help, but just boiling them is OK too.
Preserves are becoming increasingly popular. Well they are so versatile aren't they? From part of a mezze or antipasti platter, to an accompaniment to something, or as a flavour boost to another dish. From the top left to right: Carrot kimchi from Jamie Oliver - yes kimchi - very of the moment. Matt Preston's Carrot jam, then two different manifestations of gajar ka achaar - an Indian pickle - the first from A Life (Time) of Cooking, and the second from Swasthi's recipes plus a third version of Pickled carrots from Beverley Sutherland-Smith followed by Spicy carrot pickle from Greg Malouf. All dishes where carrots are the star, but not dishes that are stars on their own.
Fritters and things
Some of these could be expanded into main dishes I guess, so I should include one of my favourite things - Bert Green's Amish carrot dumplings - which are basically potato and cheese gnocchi with the addition of grated carrot. Very yummy. Below we have Spicy carrot kofte from Rachel Kelly, Crispy carrot, sweet potato and haloumi baked rosti from Phoebe Wood, an example of a typical carrot fritter - usually combined with zucchini, and a Carrot burger, from Anna Jones.
There are a few out there, ranging from the classic - Boiled beef and carrots, and a French chicken fricassée from the Berichonne region, to Jamie Oliver's Meltin' mustardy beef, Bon Appétit's Red wine braised short ribs with carrots and Gluten-free caramelised carrot tart with carrot-top salsa verde from Phoebe Wood. Greg Malouf's gorgeous Baby carrot tagine with yoghurt & honeyed pine nuts. There are also these Moroccan carrots which could be a main meal I guess. And never forget the possibilities of quiches and pasta. I should also mention the dish I keep trying to replicate from Provence - a beef stew with carrots and black olives.
Salads and sides
To some salads are a meal in themselves, although there are not many salads that I find to be substantial enough somehow. Anyway obviously the possibilities are endless, so here are just two: Carrot, orange and chervil salad from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Indian carrot salad from Jamie Oliver. As to sides - well I had to include something from Yotam Ottolenghi, who actually doesn't seem to have a lot on carrots - this one Carrots and leeks Turkish style looks quite nice though and to end on a way out note - Shaved carrots with charred dates from Bon Appétit. There are literally thousands of ways of serving carrots as a side dish, but really I wanted to ignore these and concentrate on main dishes. I've included these two because probably either of them could just about constitute a main meal.
Well really this is where carrots become the true heroes, the main feature of the dish. I will not give you examples here. There are thousands out there. Cakes, scones, muffins, biscuits, bread, even rice pudding halva and fudge.
If you've stuck with me through my long list of recipes that we - I include myself here - may or may not try - then very well done. Some of them I have cooked before - like the Greg Malouf tagine - and it was delicious, so we should all try to be a bit more adventurous with those workhorses of the fridge vegetable drawer. They go particularly well with beef, chicken, vegetables, like peas and zucchini, gorgeous in pastas and quiches with perhaps a hint of salami or ham ... So next time you buy a bag have a go at a main meal.