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Monday, April 14, 2014

Carrots

Carrots:


I recently wrote about asparagus saying that I associate asparagus with Easter.  A couple of people said they associated carrots with Easter.  Well, I suspect that they associate the carrots with the Easter Bunny.  Actually, rabbits eat the green tops of the the carrot, while we eat the orange root.   Asparagus is a spring vegetable, while locally grown carrots are in season in the summer and fall.  Both vegetables are available year round.  Well, anyway, I've never written about carrots.  So, here goes.

The carrot is a root vegetable.  It is usually orange in color , though purple, red, white and yellow varieties exist.  The carrot has a crisp texture when fresh.  The most frequently eaten part of the carrot is the taproot., although the greens are eaten as well.

The carrot is native to Europe and southwestern Asia.  Today's carrot has been selectively bred for its enlarged and more palatable, less woody-textured edible taproot.   Carrots  get their characteristic orange color from beta-carotene.  Massive overconsumption of carrots can result in carotenosis, a benign condition in which the skin turns yellow.  In fact poultry producers use carrot extracts to alter the color of egg yolk.  Today the largest producer of carrots is China followed by Russia, and then a close third is the U.S.

There are two broad classes of carrot varieties, eastern carrots and western carrots.   Eastern carrots were domesticated in central Asia in the tenth century.  Specimens of eastern carrots that survive today are commonly purple or yellow and often have branched roots.  Western carrots emerged in the Netherlands in the seventeenth century.  They have the orange color from their abundance of carotene.  Today the city of Holtville, California promotes itself as the "Carrot Capital of the World".

Traditional medicine has used the carrot root to increase blood flow to the pelvic area and the uterus, to reduce flatulence, to treat digestive problems, intestinal parasites, and tonsillitus or constipation.   The beta-carotene along with other carotenes in carrots are partly metabolized into vitamin A.  Lack of vitamin A can cause poor vision including night vision, and this can be remedied by adding vitamin A to the diet.

When I started in the produce business carrots came mostly with the tops still attached.  We would give the tops a twist to remove the tops as the bunches were sold.  Today carrots mostly come in a plastic bag with the tops already removed.   We  always were told that carrots were good for your eyes.  My father would say, "You've never seen a rabbit wearing glasses, have you?"

All varieties of carrots contain valuable amounts of antioxidant nutrients.  In a recent study of fruit and vegetable intake by color orange/yellow were found to be most productive against cardiovascular disease, and carrots were found to be the single most risk reducing food.   The anticancer benefits of carrots have been best researched in the area of colon cancer.

Carrots can be chopped and boiled, fried, or steamed, and cooked in soups and stews as well as baby and pet foods.   So called baby carrots or mini carrots are just regular carrots cut down.  Together with onion and celery carrots are one of the primary vegetables used in a "mirepoix" to make various  broths.

Select carrots that are firm , smooth, relatively stright and bright in color. Avoid carrots that are excessively cracked or forked as well as those that are limp or rubbery.   The trick to storing carrots is to minimize the amount of moisture they loose.  Store them in a plastic bag or wrapped in paper towel in the coolest part of the refrigerator.  They should last a good two weeks.  Carrots should be stored away from apples, pears, potatoes, and other fruits and vegetables that produce ethylene gas, since it will cause them to become bitter.

So....Eat up!  Enjoy! I'll show you how.

Simple but good:

.Minted Carrots with Pumpkin Seeds:

6 medium sized carrots peeled and cut into turned pieces
1/2 tablespoon fresh chopped parsley
1 tablespoon fresh chopped mint
1 tablespoon chopped pumpkin seeds
2 tablespoons lemon juice
extra virgin olive oil to taste
salt and cracked black pepper to taste

Bring slightly salted water to a boil in a steamer.  Steam carrots until al dente'.   Combine rest of ingredients and toss with carrots. 
(Turned carrots: Peel and cut off ends of carrot. Make a diagonal cut1/2 inch from the tip of the carrot.  Turn the carrot so the diagonal cut is going in the opposite direction of you knife. Make another cut.)