I didn’t have to go to Mexico to get a really, really good carrot, but that’s what happened.
In early June, I taught cooking classes at the paradise that is the Rancho La Puerta Spa, and I was enlightened by a bite of a humble carrot. You see, at every cooking class at Rancho, organic gardener extraordinaire, Salvador Tinajero, takes us for a stroll through his amazing garden. There, in the desert, the team has built a sustainable, organic farm that grows most of the produce for the meals and classes at the spa. That means that they have spent many years building soil from compost, and the results are truly delicious.
Salvador takes visible delight in everything he grows, and as he walks the group around his carefully tended rows, he plucks samples of fresh herbs, flowers, and vegetables, offering them to the crowd to sample. We ate mulberries, lemon verbena, hyssop leaves, arugala flowers, strawberries plucked from the plant, still warm from the sun. There, he pulled a bunch of young carrots from the ground and lopped off chunks for us to eat. I crunched away on the sweet, crisp carrot, and it was a revelation.
Sure, carrots are always good, and I use them so frequently that they almost become part of the scenery. It took going to Mexico and eating one with dirt still clinging to it to wake me up and stop taking these sweet roots for granted.
So now I am back, and back in love with carrots. What’s not to love?
It helps that there are so many gorgeous colors available now, with deep purplish, red, yellow and white carrots in bunches so pretty that you want to put them in a vase like flowers. When I buy those, I try to just scrub the skins, instead of peeling, since the colors are often only skin-deep. Unless they are really bitter, it’s best, as most of the nutrients hang close to the surface, too.
I am often asked whether vegetables are better for you raw or cooked. Well, the carrot is a perfect example of why you should vary your methods. The sturdy, cellulose rich carrot is actually good at hanging on to its nutrients, and preventing you from digesting them. One study shows that carotenoid absorption is only 3% when carrots are eaten raw, and that it increases to 27 % when cooked, and adding oil to the cooking process increases it to 39%. So, carotenoids are best absorbed from cooked, and eating them at the same time as something with oil helps. Some other antioxidants in carrots are water soluble, and while they may boil off, you can still absorb more just because you can digest the cooked carrot easily. It’s Vitamin C that you lose in cooking, so eat some raw, some cooked, and don’t be afraid of a little fat.
The only exception to the rule is carrot juice. Juicing extracts and makes available all the nutrients. Carrot juice is best made and used right away. I always put a few into whatever I am juicing, for sweetness.
So, I picked up a lovely bunch of young, sweet, Minnesota-grown carrots and made this very simple glazed carrot recipe. I even used the carrot tops-which taste like parsley.
And yes, Carrots are good for your vision, as well as lowering your risk of cancers, so eat them with wild abandon!
Super Simple Glazed Baby Carrots
First of all- the little baby carrots sold in bags, pre-peeled are not real baby carrots, just stumps of big carrots ground down in big machines to look like small carrots. The grinding takes off alot of the outer layer of the carrot, which reduces its nutrient content. So, look for real baby carrots, with tops attached.
1 pound bunched baby carrots
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
3/4 cup vegetable stock
1 pinch salt
2 tablespoons agave or maple syrup
chopped carrot leaves or parsley
1. Scrub the carrots, leaving as much of the skin as you can, and remove the leafy tops. In a large saute pan with a lid or a dutch oven, heat the olive oil. Add the carrots and roll them around over the heat until they are shiny and starting to brown, about 3 minutes. Add the stock and a pinch of salt and cover, reduce the heat and braise for about 10-15 minutes, depending on their thickness, just until the carrots are tender when pierced with a paring knife. The stock will be almost cooked away, if the pan is dry add a splash of stock or water.
2. Drizzle the agave or maple over the carrots and roll them around to coat. Keep cooking until they are glazed. When the liquids are very thick, transfer the carrots to a plate and top with chopped carrot leaves. Serve warm.
I knew about the cooked carrot/nutrient factor, but not about adding oil to increase nutrient absorption! One other thing about carrots I’ve discovered is that they often have a little musty smell 🙁 if you buy them bagged, so I now only buy them with the tops on–so much fresher! Nice post, Robin!
Like all produce, it really makes a difference. All winter long, we love our California carrots, but anything just-picked is sooo much better.
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