Living the Good Life…

My food blog & cookbook in progress

Cavorting with carrots

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How does one use up a five-pound bag of carrots anyway? I suppose one could subsist on a daily fare of salad and carrot cake for a month, but by the end those carriters would be shriveled (but I hate to throw things unless they’re rotten and so would feel obliged to use them) and the cake dry. Besides neither predictability nor repetition are characteristics that I’ve craved in my meals. Indeed I’m usually averse to eating any dish for more than 2 meals running — and by the third time I’m likely to have dressed it up to be just a little different than it was.

And so, when I was faced with the prospect of using up a bag that had already lived in our ‘fridge for days, I took it as a challenge to come up with something different and interesting, sort of like an Iron Chef carrot theme (minus its extravaganza of luxurious ingredients of course). I may not have necessarily made or served the following dishes in the given order, but I thought it would be fun to lay out a carrot menu from soup to nuts as it were:

1. Creamy Carrot Soup

The ultimate compliment I received for this item was a phone call from Amrita (she was living in Canada and I in New Haven) asking for the recipe. The reason this was a compliment was that Amrita at that point had met me but once (at the dinner where she tasted this soup several months before her call) and so to get my number she must have had to call her brother, a few doors down from our apartment building. Now that’s making an effort. For something I’d made up on the spur of the moment at that. Amrita, I never did find out how your version turned out. Anyway, years after you asked here’s my recipe in writing, and though I can’t guarantee it will be same thing exactly, I hope it’s as good as you thought it was…

The main difference between this and most other carrot soups I’ve had (a version by Iram has always been a yummy favorite) is their chunky goodness and this one’s pale orange liquid almost delicate, lightness. Deceptively light, I’ll admit for its got a fair amount of dairy, but there’s more milk than cream.

Saute the carrots (cut into chunks) in butter over a very low flame along with some ginger chopped fine and (if you wish) some sliced fennel, making sure that they do not caramelize or get brown. Add a few volumes of milk, some cream, salt to taste and let it all simmer till the carrots and fennel are very very soft. Cool slightly and put through the blender. To serve reheat along with some spices – some powdered fennel (regardless of whether you used the bulb earlier), black pepper and some cayenne as well. Serve in cups or mugs garnished with swirls of cream and some fronds of fennel leaves or dill.

2. Carrot main dish — carrot and ricotta (or tofu) ravioli

This is the dish that inspired this chapter to begin with. The only one of two recipes here that is truly representative of what I did do to use up a hefty portion of the 5 lb bag of carrots. Why carrots and why ravioli? Well, earlier that winter I had gotten a lovely calendar from Adam (who, if I recall, probably also bought the carrots) featuring recipes and photos for pastas from different regions of Italy. There were recipes for making the actual pastas by hand as well as different sauces and fillings. A particular recipe that had caught my eye was a pumpkin/squash agnolotti (I may have the spelling wrong but that’s what I remember, anyway its a large cousin to tortellini). Given the ingredients I had (actually I must confess I’m not a pumpkin fan except in soups, a specific cheesecake by a girl named Kim, and a pasta dish I had in Bologna) and my skill set for doughy architecture — filled squares or rounds are much easier that embellishing shapes with twists and tucks! — I adapted the recipe to carrot ravioli. I may have made the pasta from scratch on that adventurous stormy evening, but I did follow the instructions on the calendar rather faithfully for that, and so cannot remember or repeat that recipe. Either make a pasta by hand or use wonton wrappers one get in the Oriental stores. They work just fine in a pinch.

Coarsely grate enough carrots to make up 3-2 cups. Microwave covered for a minute or so, so that they are tender but not quite cooked. Cool slightly and mix well with some crumbled ricotta salata (a dry version of ricotta cheese) the regular ricotta or grated medium-to-firm tofu. Season the mixture well with herbs and spice such as parsley or dill or thyme (or a combination) and oregano, finely chopped garlic, some crushed red pepper, salt as needed, black pepper and a tablespoon or so of olive oil. The reason I avoid onions is that they tend to release too much moisture, which can cause the pasta to fall apart. Shallots may work a bit better. Another nice addition might be some slivers of dried olives. Nuts like pignoli, slivers of almonds or pecans would add a nice texture. Whatever your specific combination, use the carrot mixture to fill a pasta of choice, making sure there are no tears(rips) and all the seals are good.

Gently cook the stuffed pasta in salted simmering water, until done. its probably best to cook a few at a time and remove them with a slotted spoon as they are done. Place in a serving dish, and just before serving pour some a nicely seasoned tomato sauce over each piece, serving some on the side as well. A splash of olive oil would also be nice, I think. As always, offer guests and other diners some freshly grated Parmesan cheese and pepper.

The original recipe called for graded butternut squash I believe. I think you may have to bake or roast the squash first and then grate it. Sage — fresh or dried — goes very well with pumpkin. Raisins add a nice touch along with some nuts.

3. Carrot Bhath

Bhath is word used in different (and seemingly linguistically unrelated) parts of India to mean rice, either on its own or in certain preparations. In the state of Karnataka, where my parents now live bhath is a generic term for a host of rice-based dishes, which may bear little or no resemblance to one another in taste, color etc. The carrot bhath that follows is probably not authentic — it was a version I concocted during my only Thanksgiving in Eau Claire Wisconsin, which I celebrated with Fabiola. I’ve since made it a few times and people seem to like it, so here goes..

This dish (and most other bhaths) is easier to prepare if the rice is cooked ahead of time, cooled slightly and the grains separated by a fork and spread out in either a wide platter or a large bowl in which its possible to mix things easily. Coarsely grate carrots, using about a 1/2 cup of vegetable for each cup cooked rice (basmati is the first choice, or a long-grained jasmine rice). Heat some mustard seeds along with a tsp of urad dal, a tblsp of sesame seeds, and a pinch of hing in oil in a wide stir-fry pan or wok. When the seeds begin to sputter, add some curry leave, peanuts, finely chopped fresh ginger and green chillies and then the carrots. Stir briskly over the heat, until barely softened (the raw color should change slightly) taking care to neither burn the carrots nor to let them overcook. Season the mixture with salt, a pinch of turmeric and a generous amount of vangibhath spice mix* or sambaar powder* and stir to distribute evenly. Add a little more oil to the mixture and then pour all the contents of the pan over the rice. Gently but thoroughly mix the rice and carrot mixture with a fork or your fingers, taking care not to mash or otherwise break the grains of rice. Return the entire mixture to the saute pan for a moment, let warm through once and serve, decorated with some chopped green cilantro or the green parts of spring onions. A nice mild daal (or kootu) and some yogurt or raita, and perhaps a spicy tomato or other chutney will complement this dish to make a full meal.

*Vangibhath and sambaar powders: more on these condiments, in the “masala means” section.

4. Carrot pudding or Gaajjar ka Halwah – (the slightly-quicker microwave version)

This recipe is a long-overdue dedication to Christiane Nockels/Fabbri. Christiane, I hope you enjoy trying it out and I promise to have some waiting for you (season and carrot-availability allowing) whenever we meet next — hopefully in Egypt. (Aug, 2010 update In the interests of shortening this page, I have moved this recipe and its variation to its own page in the just desserts section).

Meanwhile, the story behind a pumpkin/squash version of this dessert:

One Thanksgiving, (2002 must have been) Michael was invited for a thanksgiving dinner to his girlfriend’s home. As it happened, his girlfriend then was Indian (go figure). So instead of wine or something Michael decided he’d take something Indian-themed, that also incorporated American thanksgiving. So he asked me if I could help him make a pumpkin/squash version of “that carrot dessert.” Never one to back off from a challenge of course I said yes! And came up with something quite yummy indeed! Again, please switch to the just desserts section for the recipe.

Mike Cassaday, this one’s for you. Are you reading it?

2 Comments»

  Christiane wrote @

I am salivating already!! I shall forward this recipe immediately to Amber (who is the real cook in the family )… but look forward to preparing it myself when the weather cools this fall! Thank you, Dr. S.!

  Mike C. wrote @

I have read this and thank you for including it. The pumpkin halwah was a big hit and I took more credit for it that I probably should have. It was not only remarkable because of the taste but because of the large volume we made. A portion of the story has been left out; we didn’t know exactly how many guests would be there. To be safe we assumed to number to be “small army”. I don’t know if the hosts had ever seen such a large pot of halwah. I’m sure they still talk about it each Thanksgiving.


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