Carrots mouldering away in the foot of your fridge? Stuck for ideas for how to cook them? Our Dinner Doctor has the answers
Writing 40 years ago, the American humourist, journalist and food writer, Calvin Trillin, remarked: "Even today, well-brought up English girls are taught by their mothers to boil all veggies for at least a month and a half, just in case one of the dinner guests turns up without his teeth." Joking aside, he was only half wrong. I think that the British legacy of Mrs Beeton and a misunderstanding of how vegetables should be cooked made us boil our vegetables into oblivion. By the 1940s, we had the magical and health properties of the carrot and its ability to make you see in the dark shoved down our throats during World War II and its aftermath of food rationing. We know they are good for us, packed full of vitamins A and C, but we don't know how to treat them with respect, unlike say the cooks of France or the Middle East.
Perhaps that is why 140,000 tonnes of carrots are thrown away in the UK every year. Admittedly, some of this waste is from peelings and carrot tops (which for some unfathomable reason we seem to regard as poisonous). But 73,000 tonnes are wasted just because we have cooked too much or they have gone off. Apparently 48% are thrown away whole and it would seem that the British are quite happy to chuck nearly a quarter of all the carrots they buy without even using them.
In my teens and 20s I was a vegetarian who loathed carrots with a passion. However, once I had realised that carrots didn't have to be unappetising sweet mush, I actually started to enjoy them, in both sweet and savoury dishes. Carrots will store well in the fridge for about two weeks – don't wash them before storing either as this will also hasten any deterioration. Inevitably, there is always one carrot that has escaped to the bottom of the rack only to emerge looking like some gnarled and mummified finger, by which stage it is only good for compost (or a meal foraged by my local family of foxes).
I try to buy unwashed carrots. Yes it is a bit more of a faff to clean them and they do tend to need to be peeled if you are using them in a dish where presentation seems important, but they will stay fresher for longer. Most of the time I rarely peel carrots, but just give them a good scrub. It is not that carrot skin contains loads of nutrients (it doesn't), but because I can reduce my household waste and I am also quite lazy!
I also try to buy ones that are less classically perfect than the ideal of carrot-shaped carrots –the more knobbly the better. Hopefully, the supermarkets are beginning to get the message that some cooks are quite happy with vegetables that have lost out in the fresh produce beauty contest stakes.
1. Spicy carrot kofte
These spicy kofte actually started life as veggie burgers; it is up to you how you want to shape and eat them – on a stick with a dip or in a bun. Either way they are very moreish.
300g carrots, roughly chopped
3-4 dried apricots, chopped
2 spring onions, chopped
1 tbsp pine nuts, lightly toasted
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
50g dried breadcrumbs
1/2 tsp Aleppo pepper or chilli flakes
1 tbsp fresh coriander, roughly chopped
1 tbsp fresh parsley, roughly chopped
1 tsp dried mint
1 egg, beaten
salt and freshly ground black pepper
tahini and yoghurt dressing
200ml plain yoghurt
1 garlic clove, very finely chopped
juice of 1 lemon
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Simmer the carrots in lightly salted water for about 20 minutes until the carrots have softened.
Drain the carrots and tip into a blender together with the dried apricots, spring onions, pine nuts and garlic. Blend until smooth.
Transfer the puree to a clean bowl. Stir through the breadcrumbs, Aleppo pepper, fresh herbs and dried mint. Check the seasoning and then add the beaten egg. Set aside for 10 minutes or so to allow the breadcrumbs to absorb some of the liquid – the mixture will begin to firm up. If it looks very runny then you will need to add more breadcrumbs.
With wet hands form the mixture either into fat sausage shapes (for kofte) or flattened balls (for burgers). Refrigerate for at least an hour until firm.
Make the dressing by combining the plain yoghurt with tahini, garlic and lemon juice. Adjust the seasoning to suit your taste and set aside to allow the flavour to develop.
Heat enough olive oil to fill a large frying pan about 1cm deep, over a medium heat.
Gently fry the kofte in batches until lightly golden brown (about 8 minutes). Try not to manhandle them in the pan too much as they are relatively fragile. Drain on kitchen paper when cooked.
Sprinkle a little smoked paprika over the tahini and yoghurt dressing and serve with the warm kofte.
Tips: I often cook the carrots in either chicken or vegetable stock. The reserved cooking liquid is then added to soups and stews for an extra injection of sweet carrot flavour. Thread the kofte onto skewers. (If using bamboo skewers, these should be soaked in cold water or about an hour beforehand to prevent burning while cooking.) Brush with oil. Grill the kofte for 2 to 3 minutes on each side (so that they are lightly browned).
2. Carrot and cucumber with gado-gado sauce
If you have ever sat dipping crunchy batons of carrot into a jar of peanut butter, you will know that carrots and peanuts complement each other beautifully. Taking that one step further, I often serve raw vegetables with a spicy peanut dipping sauce for an Indonesian gado-gado salad. Any leftover sauce makes a brilliant dressing for a noodle salad.
carrots, cut into batons
cucumber, cut into batons
250g lightly toasted peanuts
1 tsp belachan (dried shrimp paste)
1 red chilli, roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tbsp palm sugar (or light brown sugar)
200ml coconut milk
1 tbsp fresh lime juice
half tsp salt, or more to taste
Toast the peanuts by gently frying in a dry frying pan for a few minutes over a medium heat. Shake the pan every 10 seconds or so to keep the nuts from sticking.
They should start to brown after about 2 to 3 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Wrap the belachan in a small piece of kitchen foil. Gently fry the foil parcel until the belachan has warmed through and fragrant, turning once. Not only will you be able to smell when it is done, the belachan will have become very crumbly. Allow to cool a little before tipping into a blender together with the cooled peanuts.
Add the chilli, garlic and palm sugar. Blend until a rough paste is formed - it should be chunky rather than smooth.
Tip the paste into a saucepan, adding the coconut milk. Stir well to combine. Gently heat and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add lime juice and salt, to taste. Stir well.
Add half of the water and stir well. If the mixture is too thick, then add a little more water, 1 tablespoon at a time. The consistency should be that of a thick soup.
Check the seasoning and set aside to cool.
Serve with carrots and other crunchy vegetables.
Other ideas for using up carrots:
1. This pureed carrot recipe is my Damascene moment as far as carrots are concerned – the one where I learned to truly love the humble carrot.
2. You will probably need your sunglasses to look at this fabulous nutty beetroot, nashi pear and carrot salad. It tastes as beautifully vibrant as it looks.
3. Nigel Slater's carrot and coriander fritters are always welcome addition to a Sunday roast chicken. I make smaller versions for party nibbles.
4. Vanesther Rees of Bangers and Mash has these lovely beetroot and carrot pancakes all served with a creamy herb sauce.
6. Should you feel the need for something warm and comforting, this traditional beef and carrot dish should hit the spot.
7. My monster mash – a peppery and buttery mash of swede and carrot is the perfect accompaniment to roast meat.
8. Colonial Williamsburg serve up a ver long-time favourite – these wonderfully historical carrot (or parsnip) puffs .
9. Fancy some cake? Not only are they pleasing to the eye, EatYourVeg go sweet with these delicious carrot and courgette cupcakes.
10. Farmersgirl serves up a lovely, and very cost-effective credit crunch carrot and tomato soup.
11. Ivor Peters, the Urban Rajah's carrot halwa is a pudding large enough to feed 10 people, but you can reduce the proportions!
12. Regular contributors to Felicity Cloake's Readers' Recipe Swap, Natalie and Valerie Wong of Twinny Dip are never short of fabulous and inspiring recipes. Their fragrant Thai-style carrot and coconut stew was a worthy winner.
13. Valerie and Natalie Wong took the idea of carrot and coconut one step further and created this incredibly moreish nutty dip.
14. Carrot soup is perfect winter fare - sauteed carrots with onion and ginger to use up carrots beginning to soften.
15. Homemade stock? It's got to have carrots. Without them, both chicken and vegetable stocks lack an essential sweet character and taste decidedly one-dimensional.
16. Stews? Beef stew, lentil stew, or chicken soup all need at least one carrot in the mix. Not only do carrots add a touch of sweetness to the broth as the soup simmers, just like with stock, but the vegetable itself adds balance to a rich and hearty stew like nothing else.
17. Cake? We're talking carrot cake, of course! I love this cake with all my heart, and it's not just because of the cream cheese frosting. Baking the carrots seems to transform the shreds of carrot into something lush and not-too-sweet.
18. Slaws made with shredded carrots in the mix take full advantage of the crunch of raw carrots while adding the bonus of a zingy dressing. I like ones that mix carrots with ingredients like cabbage and beets the best.
19. If you've never tried a pickled carrot, put it on your list. Even carrot un-lovers like me will munch these extra-crispy, vinegary sticks until the entire jar is empty.
20. And yes, you can eat carrot tops.
Do you prefer to roast your carrots or serve in salads? Or do you have any classic carrot baking tips you would like to share?
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