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One of My Favorite Immigrants: The Carrot
~ Corine Fairbanks
While I was growing up, carrots were a staple in my family.
They were always in the refrigerator, but hardly ever used
unless my mother boiled them or used them in a soup.
Then in grade school, I ate raw carrot sticks as they were
served in the cafeteria. I wouldn’t say it was my favorite
vegetable, it was a “filler” and it was under the discriminating
category of take it or leave it. I usually left it.
As I got older and had a family of my own, of course, I wanted to cook food for my family that was healthy. My refrigerator, once again, was stocked with a bag of carrots, and since I was now in charge of the food budget, I didn’t want the carrots to just sit in there and rot. I took on the tasty challenge of hunting for carrot recipes to make cooking with carrots fun and even more enjoyable to eat.
From my trolls for recipes of the humble carrot I came across knowledge that far exceeded my expectations and ran my pallet hungry for more about this unique but common root vegetable.
First of all, what took me by surprise was that I found out that my new friend immigrated here, and there have been different opinions as to where exactly the carrot originated, and which area of the world could take the prize for its’ domestication. I assumed alike most common vegetables, they were indigenous to North America, but carrots were actually introduced to North America in the 1600s. Most experts agree that carrots were reported to have originated in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran, documented as far back as the 10th century. Over the past few thousand years, the carrot has migrated all over the world; from Persia, Arabia, Spain, Italy, France, China, Germany, England, Japan, and then finally, North America.
The stereotype of immigrants from the “old country” ( “old country” hmph..I hate that saying! It makes no sense and is scientifically incorrect, anyways…) having large families in this case is true. The carrot is related to includes angelica, anise, celery chervil, coriander/cilantro, fennel, parsley, cumin, dill, parsnip and (eeeek!) hemlock. Also, there are more than 100 varieties of carrots. I must admit, that I had never really investigated the type of carrots I bought in the past. I would just grab a bag; throw it in the cart and wander to the next aisle at the supermarket. However, I learned, varieties of carrots are divided into categories based on their shape.
The most common carrots include Danvers, Nantes, Imperator, Chantenay and Ball (or Mini). The Imperator is what most commercial growers sell and are commonly found in grocery stores throughout the United States. Yet, I honestly can’t tell you if that is what I normally bought, because, I was an ignorant and blind consumer…I didn’t ask questions, if the bag said “CARROTS” and it had pointy, long, and orange things in it, well then, that was good enough for me and my “wanna be healthy eating” alter ego.
Carrots also come in different colors other than orange, there is an earthy purple, maroon(ish)/red, an off white, and bright yellow. However, the orange carrot is the most recent domesticated species (at least over 500 years or so), and the most popular probably because of the sweeter taste and the most amount of beta-carotene.
Who would have ever thought a little carrot stick could have so much history and diversity wrapped around it? (And I am only giving you a brief, very brief summary of it. There is actually a museum dedicated to this wondrous little veggie).
But Wait! There is more:
Wild carrots were harvested for medicinal uses long before it was actually domesticated used as a side dish to a meal. Carrots are a potent source of antioxidant compounds, and contain healthy doses of vitamin A carotenes. The health benefits of carrots include reduced cholesterol, prevention from heart attacks, warding off of certain cancers, improved vision and reduced signs of premature aging. Furthermore, carrots have the ability to increase the health of your skin, boost the immune system, improve digestion, increase cardiovascular health, detoxify the body, and boost oral health in a variety of ways. Carrots have been traditionally known to treat parasites. They also provide a well-rounded influx of vitamins and minerals.
Finding out all the good health benefits is what really got me experimenting with carrot recipes.
Here is an easy and tasty recipe that I have made in the past and seems to get good results and positive feedback from friends and family.
Carrot Fruit Salad
• 4 cups shredded carrot
• 1 (8-ounce) can crushed pineapple in juice, drained and liquid reserved
• 1/2 cup chopped nuts (walnuts or pecans)
• 1/4 cup raisins
• ¼ cup of unsweetened coconut flakes
• 1 Apple (chopped)
• 1 Pear (chopped)
• 1 orange (chopped)
• 3 Tablespoons of Olive Oil
• 1 Tablespoon of Lemon juice (or more depending on taste)
• A dash of fennel
• A dash of vanilla
In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients. Stir thoroughly to combine. Let sit a few hours in refrigerator so flavors can meld, though you can serve immediately if desired. Serve.
I like this recipe because it doesn’t use any mayonnaise and all the juices from the fruits mingle well together. It is sweet and the lemon adds a little tartness to it. I have used a dash of apple cider vinegar before and it came out pretty well too.
Carrots are multi-dimensional, multi-purposeful, and can keep their flavor even if they are raw, steamed, roasted, in soups, stews, cakes, puddings, breads, and juices (and the list can go on and on depending on how brave and experimental you are!). I am not encouraging you to go out and buy a bunch of cookbooks. Your local library should probably have a huge selection cookbooks and you can check them out for free! My favorite part of going through cookbooks is looking at all the photos (my dishes never look that good), it gets my imagination going. I have learned the hard way to not look at these pictures if I am hungry! So I warn you to do the same. Your local library probably has a nice selection of cookbooks and if you have a particular one in mind, usually the librarian can order it for you if it is not there. Bon Appetit!