You would never see Bugs without one, almost like George Burns and the omnipresent stoogie.
And they are good for you helping to improve your vision. You’ve never seen a rabbit with
glasses have you? (… waiting for raucous laughter and applause to subside…) Anyway, what I’m
talking about is that versatile taproot formally known as Daucus carota or known by you and
me as the carrot.
What is a Carrot?
A carrot is nothing more than a storage vessel for sugar (the part that we consume at least) that
the plant uses as energy for flowering during its second year of life. Of course we usually don’t
let cultivated carrots see that 2nd year of life because we’re interested in the storage vessel itself,
not the flowers.
Nutritionally speaking, everyone knows of the ocular benefits for a diet rich in carrots. This is
mainly due to the beta carotene content of carrots. In fact, 100gm of raw carrots supplies
almost 100% of your daily requirements for the nutrient. Further processing converts the beta
carotene to retinol which is an essential nutrient to allow us to maintain night vision. However
before you start supplementing your diet with beta carotene or retinol, be forewarned that that
there is too much of a good thing. Beta carotene supplementation can do more harm than good
in smokers and too much of the active form of Vitamin A – retinol – is actually toxic. For some
strange reason, I’ve always remembered a factoid from my Food Safety class at the University of
Hawaii some 25 plus years ago. Three ounces of raw polar bear liver contains 1.68 million units
of retinol which is a fatal dose for 50% of us. Why I remembered that I don’t know, especially
since global warming is taking care of those pesky polar bear livers. Consuming too many carrots
can result in hypercarotenemia which while not fatal like too much retinol, can leave the skin a
strange shade of orange.
Along with healthy doses of beta carotene, carrots also are a very good source of dietary fiber,
Vitamin K, potassium and Vitamin C and also provide magnesium, manganese, molybdenum,
Vitamins B1, B3, B6 and folic acid. Therefore carrots aren’t just for rabbits anymore.
Anything More than Carrot Sticks?
I’d just like to state for the record that there is nothing wrong with carrot sticks. I personally
pack them in my lunch every day. Along with an apple, Fiber One bar and sandwich, it helps
provide me with about 40gm of dietary fiber every day. But if simple carrot sticks or pre-peeled
baby carrots aren’t your cup of tea (and especially if those baby carrots get a little slippery
before you’ve finished the bag), try some of these alternative uses. Slice peeled carrots on the
bias about 1/8 inches thick. Along with radish, cucumber and red pepper slices, they’ll provide a
colorful assortment of spread and dip transport vehicles for final destination to your mouth.
Along with a range of colors and flavors, they’ll also satisfy the pickiest diners who shun bread
and crackers for fear of carbohydrates.
If you want something a little softer, how about carrot soup? Saute diced carrots, onion and
garlic with some fresh ginger (deglazed with Shochu from my last column) and puree in a food
processor and loosen with some chicken stock for a savory carrot soup.
Or simply use carrots with its traditional culinary partners onion and celery. Added to stocks,
soups, stews and braising liquids, this trinity of traditional western cooking is known as a
mirepoix. Sometimes the three are minced, sometimes they’re finely diced, and sometimes they’
re roughly cubed in hearty stews. The only time carrots are left out of the big dance is in
traditional Acadian or Cajun faire where bell peppers seem to have displaced these orange gems.
Of course, Cajuns seem to have their own culinary traditions as well as language so we won’t fret
over the omission of the carrots.
Yes, the carrot cake. Healthy because of its inclusion of a healthy dose of the grated orange
stuff. With less butter than usual cakes because the grated carrots bring a lot of moisture to the
mixture. I hate to burst your bubble if you regularly consume carrot cake for these reasons but
it’s no better for you than chocolate cake. The moisture comes from 1 to 1 & ½ cups of
vegetable oil that’s used in most recipes. Of course, vegetable oil has no cholesterol and is lower
in saturated fat than butter… but those are added back in the form of cream cheese frosting
adorning most recipes for carrot cake.
The Mar/Apr issue of Fine Cooking had a spiced carrot cake recipe that uses carrot juice in place
of grated carrots and is garnished with candied carrot julienne and pistachios. I haven’t tried this
recipe yet so I can’t vouch for it (plus I’ll probably try to replace some of the butter with canola
oil) but I’ll try it in the future (http://www.finecooking.com/recipes/spiced-carrot-cakes-
In the meantime, I found the original recipe for this Ethiopian-Style Carrot and Chickpea Stew
on the Whole Foods website but adapted it for my own taste and increased the solids in the
recipe. I have tried this recipe for a spicy (lots of spices spicy, not chili pepper spicy) carrot and
chickpea stew. And this recipe is healthy so indulge all you want.
Ethiopian-Style Carrot & Chickpea Stew
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
Several dashes of cayenne
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
3 (15-ounce) cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 medium red onion, chopped
1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce rinsed with 1 can water added
1 quart vegetable broth
6 red potatoes, cut into 1-inch chunks
6 carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Add garlic, onions and chopped
ginger and cook, stirring occasionally, until very soft and golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in
spices and continue cooking, stirring constantly, until spices are toasted and very fragrant, about
2 minutes. Stir in tomato sauce and water and cook 2 minutes more.
Stir in broth, potatoes, carrots and reserved chickpeas and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to
medium-low, cover and simmer until potatoes and carrots are just tender, about 20 minutes.
Uncover pot and simmer until stew is thickened and potatoes and carrots are very tender, about
20 minutes more.
What's Up Doc?