On a scale of ho-hum to exotic, the humble carrot rarely rates above a yawn. It lacks the style of asparagus, the charm of a big, plump leek, and is associated ore with the likes of Bugs Bunny than George Clooney.
But there are times when this worker-bee veggie shines through. Like the night I encountered it as a positively addictive appetizer while waiting for a table in a Greek restaurant in Stratford, England.
The carrots had been julienne-cut into match-stick size and were stewing in a saucer of vodka, hot peppers and vinegar. An unusual combination, but effective.
I also love how carrots provide a simple splash of color in a winter salad. And the way they travel to a picnic without wilting. Kids like them — or at least appreciate their function for spearing olives, and dieters devour them with guilt-free abandon.
In fact, my favorite road food — when covering long distances alone in the car — is a bag of carrots and a jar of pickles. The contrasting flavors and textures keeps me lively, even through the dullest stretches of I-5.
About the only exciting bit of drama associated with this colorful veggie is that fact that baby carrots aren’t really baby carrots.
Shocked? Well, check the package and you’ll probably see that what you’ve purchased are actually what the industry calls “baby cuts” — made from larger carrots that have been peeled and cut into smaller sizes.
But thanks to a bit of careful breading, most carrots destined for the baby carrot market are relatively petite and coreless with a nice level of sweetness.
Consumers have embraced the trend wholeheartedly, making baby carrots the fastest growing segment of the carrot industry and outselling every other veggie in the produce aisle, according to reports by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Right now carrots of all sizes that are coming into local markets of delightfully high quality.
Here are a few of my favorite ways to enjoy them.
Marinated carrots a la Stratford
1 pound carrots, peeled and julienne cut into 1-inch x ¼-inch sticks to measure 3 cups
3-4 quarts boiling salted water
½ cup distilled or white wine vinegar
½ cup pepper flavored vodka (available in liquor stores)
Drop carrots into rapidly boiling water, cover and boil exactly 10 seconds. Drain carrots immediately and combine in a deep bowl with the vinegar and vodka; refrigerate the carrots for 24 hours before serving. Will keep at least 2 weeks.
Yields 3 cups.
Zesty carrot salad
2 cups thinly sliced carrot rounds
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
½ cup julienne-cut zucchini (1-inch long pieces)
¼ cup chopped green bell pepper
½ cup Italian dressing (homemade or Commercial brand)
Oregano to taste
1 15½-ounce can red kidney beans, well-drained salad greens
In a bowl, combine carrots, cheese, zucchini, and bell pepper. Stir in Italian dressing and oregano; blend well. Gently fold in the kidney beans and additional dressing if needed, then refrigerate the mixture for at least 3 hours, or overnight to blend flavors.
When ready to serve, arrange salad greens on individual serving plates and top with the carrot salad.
Serves 6 to 8.
Colony House vegetable salad
1 cup julienne-cut carrots (preferably match-stick size)
1 cup thinly sliced zucchini
1 cup thinly sliced celery
1 cup thinly sliced cabbage
½ cup thinly sliced bell pepper
½ cup thinly sliced red onion
¼ pound ham, beef, salami or turkey, julienne cut
¼ pound Swiss cheese, julienne cut
Good quality Vinaigrette or Italian Dressing
Combine all of the ingredients in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours or overnight.
Note: This is a terrific picnic salad, and is equally yummy when piled into pocket bread with yogurt or mayonnaise, lettuce and sprouts.
Yields 8 servings.
Carrot and raisin salad
½ cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 cups shredded raw carrots
1 cup cored and diced apple (red or green)
¾ cup raisins
In a medium bowl, combine the mayonnaise and lemon juice. Stir in the carrots, apple, and raisins, mixing thoroughly. Cover and chill for at least an hour before serving on crisp salad greens.
Yields 4 to 6 servings.
VARIATIONS: Add toasted sesame seeds or pine nuts before serving; add 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard; omit raisins and add 1 teaspoon caraway or poppy seeds; add diced peppers, celery, onions or other vegetables.
Sweet and spicy carrot and zucchini salad
4 medium zucchini (preferably 2 green and 2 golden)
½ cup distilled white vinegar
4 tablespoons sugar
1-1½ teaspoons salt
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into very slender rounds (cut on the diagonal)
½ small red onion, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon Chinese chile paste with garlic
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
Trim the zucchini, cut in half lengthwise, then cut into 1/16-inch-thick slices, cut on a diagonal.
Combine the zucchini, ¼ cup of the vinegar, 2 tablespoons of the sugar, and 1 teaspoon of the salt in a bowl. Toss well and let stand for at least 1 hour.
Drain the zucchini well. Combine the drained zucchini with the carrots, onions, remaining ¼ cup vinegar, 2 tablespoons sugar and ½ teaspoon salt, the chile paste and cilantro; mix well. Let stand at least 30 minutes before serving.
Yields 6 to 8 servings.
Adapted from “The San Francisco Chronicle Cookbook,” edited by Michael Bauer and Fran Irwin.
Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist, and author of “Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit,” and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at email@example.com, or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.