Carrot challenge: Enhance the flavour without killing the taste

Cynthia Stone
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I’ve eaten carrots in a lot of places around the world, but none tasted like those just now coming out of our dirt. Kissed by the cooling air and aided by a spectacular summer, the harvest is worth celebrating this year.

My aunt in Corner Brook, who tends her impressive gardens daily, sent me a goody bag last weekend. I’m savouring every morsel, but the carrots were especially sweet.

The challenge is how you enhance the carrots and not hide all that flavour. I know you are probably all boiling a few for the holiday dinner this weekend, but the sweetest vegetables also lend themselves to a touch of elegance.

Roasted carrots with sherry and fresh thyme

If you went to the effort of buying locally grown — or the supreme effort of growing them yourself — then showcase the flavour. Roasting intensifies their sweetness and thyme complements their earthy quality.

Use the fattest carrots you can find and don’t bother substituting the “baby-cut” ones sold by the bagful in the grocery store. They are good only for eating raw, dipping, or, when they start to dry out, for making stock.

Allow one large carrot per person unless you are serving lots of sides, but I find people eat more of them when they are prepared this way.

6 large carrots

1 large sweet or Spanish onion, peeled and cut into 6 or 8 wedges

2 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced

1/4 cup dry sherry

2 tbsp. butter (not margarine)

1/2 tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves (divided)

2 tbsp. chopped fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley

Peel carrots and cut into 2-inch lengths. Cut those into stick shapes about 1/2 inch thick. Place in large roasting pan along with onion and garlic. Stir together sherry, butter, salt and pepper and stir into vegetables. Cover and roast at 400 F for 20 minutes. Uncover and stir in about half the thyme. Roast another 20 minutes, stirring now and then, until carrots are golden brown and tender. Sprinkle remaining thyme and parsley on top just before serving.

Warm Thai carrot and rice salad

This one will make your taste buds sit up and take notice. Yes, the flavours are intense — hot, sweet, sour and salty all competing for attention. Add shredded cooked chicken and this dish will stand quite nicely on its own for a satisfying meal. For a great vegetarian alternative, add cooked chickpeas.

This amount serves 4 to 6, depending on what’s going with it.

2 tbsp. toasted sesame oil

2 tbsp. soy sauce

2 tbsp. fresh lime juice

2 tbsp. pineapple juice

1 tbsp. white wine vinegar

1 tbsp. honey

1 small fresh Thai-style red chili, seeded and minced (or whatever fresh chili you can find)

1 thumb-sized piece fresh gingerroot, grated

1 clove garlic, minced

2 cups cooked long-grain rice (Jasmine or basmati would be good choices.)

4 medium carrots, peeled and thinly sliced or grated

1 cup unsalted toasted cashews, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup diced pineapple

1 small red bell pepper, cut into small strips

2 green onions, chopped

1 stalk celery, thinly sliced

1/2 cup fresh chopped cilantro

Prepare the dressing first, up to a day ahead. Whisk together sesame oil, soy sauce, lime juice, pineapple juice, white wine vinegar and honey. Stir in red chili, ginger and garlic; set aside. Boil rice according to preparation instructions — drain if there is any cooking water remaining. Pour dressing over hot rice and stir well. Add remaining ingredients and serve warm or chilled.

Spiced carrots, potatoes and green beans in butter sauce

Aren’t you always looking for that perfect side dish that takes all the worry about having everything ready at the same minute? Go ahead and roast chicken legs, fry pork chops or bake fish. This dish will go perfectly with whatever protein you have chosen. It even makes its own sauce. I know the ingredient list looks long, but gather the spices in advance and there’s nothing to it.

This amount will serve 4 to 6.

3 large carrots, peeled, halved lengthwise and cut into 1/2-inch slices

3 large red or yellow potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1 lb. fresh green beans, cut into 2-inch lengths

2 tbsp. vegetable oil

1/2 tsp. black mustard seeds (or yellow if you can’t find black)

1/2 tsp. cumin seeds

1/2 tsp. coriander seeds

1/4 tsp. fenugreek seeds

1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes

1 medium onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup unsalted butter — no other

Boil carrots and potatoes in a pot of salted water until nearly cooked. Add green beans and boil another 5 minutes or until everything is tender but not mushy. Drain and rinse in cold water to stop the cooking; set aside or make ahead and refrigerate until just before it’s time to eat.

Heat oil in a large frying pan or Dutch oven. Add mustard, cumin, coriander, fenugreek and red pepper flakes. Fry until they start to pop then add the onion. Cook until onion is starting to soften and colour slightly then add garlic. Fry just until fragrant. Add black pepper and butter and heat until sizzling. Stir in reserved vegetables and cook, stirring, until everything is coated with the spice mixture and steaming hot. Serve right away.

Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in St. John’s. Questions may be sent to her c/o The Telegram, P.O. Box 86, St. John’s, NL, A1E 4N1.

Organizations: The Telegram

Geographic location: Corner Brook

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