About Carrots

This week’s lesson: Carrots!

Pulling a home-grown carrot out of the ground can feel like opening a present on your birthday. The carrots you find at the grocery store are sorted to all look the same, but in reality, carrots can grow in really interesting and unique shapes. It is fun to see what sort of surprises are hiding under the soil when you harvest them yourself. This sweet, earthy root vegetable is a member of the parsley family (and if you think about it, the greens do resemble parsley), and comes in a variety of shapes and colors including white and purple.

How do you know when they are ready to harvest? 
Knowing when to harvest carrots depends on what you want to do with them. You can harvest small, tender carrots early, which are delicious for raw snacking. If you want to harvest your carrots for cooking and storing for the winter, wait to pick them until the fall when they are larger and more mature. Just like with other root vegetables such as beets or radishes, the greens will get quite tall before the carrots are ready to harvest. Carrots can be harvested when the roots are at least ½- ¾ inch in diameter. Sometimes the best way to tell how big the roots are is just to pull one out and check- if it is too small, most likely the rest of them are too, and you should wait a while longer (but still eat the one you pulled!). Harvest them by gently pulling them out by the greens, or you can dig them out with your hands or a trowel.

How do you store them?
Cut the tops off ½-inch from the root and store them separately to keep the carrots from softening too quickly. You can eat the greens, so don’t throw them away! Store in the fridge, unwashed, and wrapped in a damp towel in a sealed plastic bag. To keep the roots fresh, place them in cold water if you want them to stay crisp longer. Carrots may keep for 2 months stored this way, greens will keep for a few days. To freeze carrots, slice them and blanch them in boiling water for 5 minutes. Immediately place them in ice water to stop the cooking process, then pack in a hard plastic container and store in the freezer. To thaw, simply steam them for a few minutes, or throw them into soups or stews straight from the freezer.

How do you cook them?
Carrots are a very versatile vegetable, and can be enjoyed in a variety of preparations; raw, steamed, sautéed, boiled, baked, or even juiced. Cooking them enhances their natural sweetness. To prepare, wash them under running water, scrubbing the dirt off gently with a brush. Peeling is only necessary to removed damaged areas, or if you prefer a more delicate texture. Otherwise, leave the outer skin in-tact because it is a great source of vitamin A, which helps your eyesight! An easy way to add carrots to a salad is to use a vegetable peeler and peel thin strips straight into the bowl; they match the texture of lettuce this way and are easier to eat. The greens are also full of nutrients, and can be chopped up into a salad, or used to flavor a stock. You can also dry the greens and use them as an herb, like parsley.

NUTRITION:

Carrots are a favorite vegetable among all age groups and are a great addition to anyone’s diet. Whether raw or cooked, a 1 cup serving of carrots provides about 50 calories, 3 grams of dietary fiber, and 10% of our daily value for vitamin C. Carrots are also an excellent source of the phytochemical, beta-carotene. Beta-carotene, also called provitamin A, is converted to vitamin A in the body (Note: beta-carotene is included in the total for vitamin A on the nutrition facts label). Also, beta-carotene, along with vitamin C, are considered antioxidants because they protect the body’s cells from the damaging effects of free radicals. Consider adding a source of fat from a salad dressing, olive oil, or plain old butter next time you chomp down on this beloved orange vegetable. A small amount of fat from these sources will help your body absorb vitamin A because this vitamin is only soluble in fat.

Emily Berg MS, RD, LDN
Swedish Covenant Hospital Clinical Dietitian

RECIPE:

This healthy soup is a great way to use up excess carrots at the end of the season, plus you can use your home-grown garlic, onions, thyme, and potatoes too!

Carrot Soup
Serves 4-6

1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
½ tsp. fresh thyme
3Tbsp. butter
4 cups vegetable broth
2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
6-8 medium carrots, peeled and cut into small slices
Salt & pepper to taste

Melt butter in large stock pot, on medium-high heat. Sautee onion, garlic, and thyme in the butter until soft, about 5 minutes. Add vegetable broth, potatoes, and carrots. Bring to a boil, then turn heat to low and simmer until the veggies are done (test with a fork). Do not drain the broth. Cool slightly, then transfer to a food processor and puree until smooth (may have to do this in batches). Return to the pot, and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Note: Try tossing the carrot greens in as well, for an added carrot flavor- or you can save the greens to make homemade vegetable stock.