“I never worry about diets,” observed Mae West. “The only carrots that interest me are the number you get in a diamond.” Considering the source, such a view is, perhaps, understandable, but it is certainly shortsighted. After all, the carrot is among the most multi-faceted of all root vegetables.
Added to soups and stews, the carrot lends sweetness; boiled, steamed, or roasted it makes a great side dish; put in a stir-fry it adds color and crunch; its flavor is enhanced by herbs and spices as diverse as thyme, dill, mint, parsley, chervil, ginger, and nutmeg; its juice makes a healthy drink; and given that the carrot contains more sugar than any other vegetable except the beet, it can even function as dessert. Indeed, well before the invention of carrot cake (my favorite way to eat my vegetables) carrots were being used in candies and puddings. Carrots don’t even have to be cooked to be enjoyed. They’re great raw in a salad or as a crudité.
No wonder the carrot is the second most popular vegetable in the world after the potato—not bad for a plant which, according to the Oxford Companion to Food, “had an unpromising origin.” It is, after all, merely a refined version of a common weed—Queen Anne’s lace. In fact, originally the carrot wasn’t even orange. The orange carrot didn’t appear on the scene until the 16th century when Dutch growers, among the leading carrot breeders of the time, developed it in colorful tribute to the House of Orange, the Dutch royal family.
It turns out also that your mom was right when she claimed that carrots are good for your eyes. Both the vitamin A and the beta-carotene in carrots lower the risk of eye disease, including cataracts and macular degeneration, and help counter night blindness. Thus, along with radar, specially bred high carotene carrots were a secret weapon of British RAF pilots in World War II.
+++++Consummate Carrot Cake+++++
Ever since Viola Schlicting of Texas created the first carrot cake in the 1960s, a reworking of her German carrot-nut bread, people have been perfecting the recipe. This version is adapted from “Cooks Illustrated” magazine where after numerous experiments it was concluded that draining the carrots of excess moisture and substituting browned butter for oil are the secrets for making the best carrot cake.
- 2 and 2/3 cups flour
- 4 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 7 cups finely grated carrots
- 1 and 2/3 cups granulated sugar
- 3 and 1/4 sticks butter, divided
- 1 cup light brown sugar
- 5 eggs
- 1 and 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
- 3/4 cup toasted walnuts
- 3/4 cup raisins
- 1 pound cream cheese
- 2 and 1/2 cups powdered sugar
- 2 and 1/2 tablespoons sour cream
Toss the carrots with 1 cup granulated sugar and set in a colander to drain until 1 cup of liquid has collected, about 20-30 minutes. Whisk together flour, baking powder and soda, cinnamon, and salt. Melt 2 sticks of the butter over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, and cook until golden brown, 8-10 minutes. Transfer to large bowl and cool 10 minutes. Whisk in remaining 2/3 cups granulated sugar and the brown sugar. Add eggs one at a time, whisking each in thoroughly. Add vanilla. Blend in flour mixture, stirring just until almost combined. Mix in carrots, nuts, and raisins. Divide batter between two greased and floured 9-inch cake pans and bake at 350 degrees until toothpick inserted in center tests clean, about 40-50 minutes. Cool 10 minutes, remove from pans and cool completely. For frosting, beat cream cheese and remaining 10 tablespoons butter until smooth. Add powdered sugar and sour cream and blend well.