Although carrots often play a supporting role in the culinary world, I’ve long appreciated them in their own right. As a baby I turned a subtle hue of orange from consuming so much carrot puree, and as a child I happily mimicked my favorite cartoon character, Bugs Bunny, by chomping on carrots every chance I got. Apparently the world has caught up, since a recent New York Times article declared carrots the new Brussels sprouts.
Carrots probably originated in Afghanistan from a purple variety thousands of years ago, and have been enjoyed for their culinary and medicinal purposes ever since. Today they’re more popular than ever, with the average American eating nearly 10 pounds per year, according to a USDA report on the subject.
Though they have a long history, carrots don’t appear alongside the seven species of the Old Testament, and Gil Marks points out in The Encyclopedia of Jewish Cooking that “The carrot, never mentioned in the Talmud or Midrash, was a rather late arrival to the Middle East and Jewish cookery.”
Still, once it was introduced to Jewish cookery, the carrot made its mark in soups and stews, salads and cakes across the world. Apparently, says Marks, the first mention of carrot cake can be found in a 1912 cookbook published by the Council of Jewish Women in Portland, Oregon.
Marks notes that “Moroccans brought carrot salads to Israel in the 1940s,” and indeed today piquant Moroccan carrot salad (recipe below) is a steadfast part of many an Israeli meal. The spicy and lemony salad turns up as part of the mezze selection at restaurants and in homes, and can even be purchased pre-made from the supermarket.
For a sweeter take on the savory carrot salad, my favorite lately has been one I learned from Orly Ziv of Tel Aviv-based culinary tourism company Cook in Israel (recipe below). The recipe is about as simple as they get, but the results are downright addictive. Grated carrots are mixed with chives, chopped pecans and a slightly sweet dressing for a salad that can be a light meal on its own or the perfect side to complement just about any meal.
For a more modern take on the carrot salad, Israeli-based food blogger Beth Michelle makes charred carrots with caramelized goat cheese and wild garlic chips (recipe below). Tangy goat cheese proves to be the perfect foil to sweet carrots in this warm side dish or vegetarian main that puts carrots center stage.
Of course, while the orange variety of carrots made so popular by the Dutch centuries ago is still the most common, multicolored heirlooms are increasingly available around the world. In Israel, purple carrots can often be found in farmers markets and Arab markets this time of year, and are particularly popular for stuffing (as in this recipe for stuffed carrots from popular food blog Café Liz). While the world might not be turning orange (or purple!) from eating so many carrots, it’s nice to see this healthful and versatile vegetable finally getting its due.
What’s your favorite way to enjoy carrots? Tell us in the comments below!
Moroccan Carrot Salad
Yield: 4 to 6 side/appetizer/mezze servings
6 carrots, peeled
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon chili powder or cayenne pepper
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon hot paprika
¼ cup chopped cilantro or parsley
½ to 1 teaspoon harissa or chopped chili pepper (optional)
1) Cook the carrots in boiling water until just tender, about 10 minutes.
2) Drain the carrots and rinse under cold water. Slice on a bias into thin coin-shaped slices.
3) Mix together the garlic, chili powder, lemon juice, cumin, paprika, parsley and harissa (if using) and toss with the sliced carrots. Season with salt.
4) Let stand at room temperature or in the fridge at least 1 hour, or in the fridge up to 2 days (the carrots will only get more flavorful with time). Serve cold or at room temperature.
Recipe by Katherine Martinelli
Carrot and Sweet Pecan Salad
Yield: 4 side servings
4-5 carrots, peeled and grated
1 bunch chives or spring onions, sliced
1 cup (100 g) sweet pecans, roughly chopped
3 tablespoons canola oil
¼ cup vinegar (white wine vinegar works well)
1 tablespoon mustard
2 tablespoons sugar
1 clove garlic, minced (optional)
1) Put the grated carrots, sliced chives and chopped pecans in a salad bowl and mix.
2) In a separate bowl, whisk together the canola oil, vinegar, mustard, sugar, salt and garlic, if using.
3) Pour the dressing over the salad and toss to thoroughly coat. Serve.
Recipe by Cook in Israel
Charred Carrots with Caramelized Goat Cheese and Wild Garlic Chips
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
1 cup olive oil, plus 3 tablespoons
5 cloves wild fresh garlic, sliced thin
7 large carrots, peeled and cut into thick sticks
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
4 ounces goat cheese, sliced into rounds
1 tablespoon brown sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
1) Heat 1 cup of the oil in a large skillet and add the garlic. Cook until garlic is crisp and golden, less then a minute.
Remove with a slotted flat skimmer and transfer to a plate lined with paper towels and set aside.
Strain oil and reserve for another use (it will be infused with garlic flavor).
2) In a large mixing bowl combine carrot sticks, 2 tablespoons oil, thyme, and salt and pepper to taste.
3) Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet. Cook carrots in a single layer (working in batches if necessary) without turning for 7 to 10 minutes, or until starting to char. Turn once and cook for 3 minutes.
4) Transfer to a plate and toss with half the crispy garlic. Dip one side of the goat cheese rounds in brown sugar and place, sugar side down, in hot pan. Cook until cheese is caramelized and warm.
5) Remove with a spatula and invert onto carrots. Sprinkle remaining crispy garlic on top and serve.
Recipe by Beth Ebin of Beth Michelle