Oftentimes, carrots are harvested in the late Fall after we’ve had a good frost and are stored in dirt or sand by farmers just above freezing to for the entire winter (or until they sell out). The hard freeze causes the carrots to become sweeter as the starches change to sugar (just like parsnips) and make for quite a delicious root crop. Now, not all farmers wait that long and harvest their carrots before the weather gets bad, so there will be flavor differences between farms when you’re shopping for carrots at a market. If you’re interested in the flavor, just ask for a taste, unless you’re in a grocery store in which case that might be frowned upon. Or, just ask your farmer when they harvested them.
Since we’ve finally had a few hard freezes, local carrots are going to be appearing at the markets with regularity and there is no time like to present to dive in and try them. Whether you like to chomp on them raw with the greens still attached or roast them with butter and brown sugar, learning some additional tricks on preparing carrots will make the winter all the more interesting. So, without further ado, let’s learn to love our carrots!
Did you know…
The carrots you find at the store or market are typically orange, but there are also purple, black, white, yellow, and red varieties. Some varieties even have two-tone roots (e.g. a purple carrot with a yellow core). Carrots are a domesticated form of the wild carrot, Daucus carota, which is native to Europe and Southwestern and probably originated in Persia. Originally cultivated for its leaves and seeds, nowadays the most commonly eaten part of the plant is the taproot, although the stems and leaves are still eaten as well.
Although carrots contain large quantities of beta-cerotene they don’t give you night vision, despite what you might have been told as a child. The provitamin A beta-carotene from carrots does not actually help people to see in the dark unless they suffer from vitamin A deficiency. This myth was propaganda used by the British Royal Air Force during WWII to explain why their pilots had improved success during night air battles. The story was used to disguise advances in radar technology and the use of red lights on instrument panels which were the real reasons for the pilots’ improvement.
As the name implies, carrots are brimming with beta-carotene. Beta carotene is a substance that is converted to vitamin A in the human body. A 1/2 cup serving of cooked carrots contains four times the recommended daily intake of vitamin A in the form of protective beta-carotene. Generally, carrots contain high quantities of alpha- and beta-carotene, and are a good source of vitamin K and vitamin B6. They also contain modest levels of other essential nutrients like phosphorous and manganese.
Buying & Storing
When buying carrots look for ones that are less than 1-1.5″ in diameter. Huge, overgrown carrots tend to be less tasty and may have a tough woody core that requires removal. Check for significant damage that would cause the carrot to go bad quickly and avoid carrots if they have started to go soft. Also, avoid carrots that are rubbery or shriveled and have softness or mold at the top. Carrots with funky twists, splits, and legs are not any different than “normal” single-point carrots they just happen to look funny so don’t pass them up unless you need perfect carrots for presentation or “sticks.” Oftentimes spring carrots will still have the greens attached and be a little smaller than carrots that are available in the winter or fall.
Store carrots with the green tops removed. Although the tops are edible, during storage the greens rob the carrot of moisture and nutritional value so it is best to remove them. Carrots will keep for several weeks in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator in perforated plastic bags. Store the greens wrapped in a damp paper towel in your crisper drawer and use within a few days. If you don’t want to use them fresh, the greens can be dried and used as an herb. For long-term storage, pack carrots in a container with moist sand and keep in a cool location. Carrots can also be frozen. Blanch for 3 minutes in boiling water and then rinse in cold water to stop the cooking process. Drain them, let them dry, and pack into an airtight container or freezer bag.
Use a vegetable brush to remove all of the soil from the carrot root and rinse under cold water. Peel if desired (peeling carrots is not needed). Raw carrots are naturally sweet, but lightly cooked carrots are even sweeter. Carrots are one of those vegetables that loses very little nutritional value during cooking. In fact, some nutrients in slightly cooked carrots are more available to the body than raw carrots. Cooking actually breaks down the tough cellular wall of carrots making some nutrients more useable to the body.
Raw: carrots can be shredded raw and added to slaws or salads, chopped into slices or sticks and eaten with dips, or juiced. They can also be added to soups and stews. The greens can be added to salads, used as a garnish, or chopped and added to soups or stews.
Puree: boil carrots (see below) and return them to the pan over low heat and mash with a potato mashed or beat with a hand-held mixer until smooth. For a smoother texture, you can put them in a blender or food processor. Add milk or heavy cream, butter, salt, and pepper and mix until combined.
Microwaving: spread 2 cups of sliced carrots in a 1-quart baking dish. Add 2 tablespoons of lightly salted water to the carrots, cover, and cook on high for 5 to 8 minutes. Let stand, covered, for 3 minutes.
Boiling: peel and slice carrots and place them in a saucepan or pot with enough boiling water to cover them by at least 1 inch. Keep the water simmering and cook the carrots, covered, until tender (about 12-20 minutes depending on the size of your slices). Drain them and serve with butter and parsley or brown sugar, butter, and spices.
Sautéeing: slice or cube carrots and place in a hot skillet or sauté pan with a little vegetable oil. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and tender. The cooking time will vary greatly depending on the size of the pieces you are cooking so make sure that your cut carrots are as uniform in thickness as possible.
Roasting: leave carrots whole, cut them in half lengthwise, or slice them. Toss them in olive or vegetable oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, spread them out in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet, and roast at 400°F until golden brown and tender, about 1 hour. Sliced or diced carrot will roast faster so lower roasting time accordingly.