Wednesday, February 2, 2011

ingredient: CARROTS

One of the most shocking things I ever saw on TV as a child was a group of people whose skin had turned orange because they ate too many carrots. I was totally freaked out that a simple vegetable could be slowly leading these people to Oompa Loompa land. Of course these days no TV channel would show any adverse affects of vegetables thanks to the wrath of the Parents Television Council. But from that day forward, for me, carrots were a powerful, magical thing.

When I was young, someone also told me that eating carrots could actually make you see in the dark. Who doesn’t want that power? It took me a long time to learn that this is a grossly exaggerated fact, and I’ll admit that I hopefully ate my carrots for a long, long time. To my credit, this urban legend has been around since World War Two. It started because British RAF pilots were particularly good at night attacks, and while the real key to their success was radar technology, those sneaky Brits circulated the rumor that it was because their pilots ate a lot of carrots. Civilians in Briton and Germany began to eat carrots for their eyesight. Forty years later I did the same, proving the unfortunate truth that rumors never die.

However there does just seem to be a strong relationship between carrots and childhood. It’s a starter vegetable. It’s a little sweet. It’s a little crunchy. Throw in a side of ranch dressing, or these days, hummus, and it’s a favorite “healthy snack” for parents to give their kids. Perhaps in honor of their former after-school snack, adults usually continue to eat their carrots raw, and rightfully so: carrots are a salad stalwart and baby carrots have the bonus of being ready-to-eat. But actually only three percent of carrot’s much touted beta carotene is digested when we eat them raw; whereas pulping or cooking carrots makes thirty nine percent available. In Battle Carrots, it’s chefs: 1; raw foodists: 0.

Of course carrots are beneficial for more than their beta carotene quotient. One cup contains 686.3% of your required daily vitamin A. Eating a lot of Vitamin A each day has been shown to decrease your chances of postmenopausal breast cancer by 20% and cut incidences of esophagus, larynx, prostate, bladder, colon, and cervix cancers by 50%.

If you want to sex-up a plate of childish carrots, look for purple, red, or even white varieties. And if you’re wondering how to get your maximum beta-carotene intake, try making the following soup.

Carrot Ginger Soup

Carrots appear in most soups. But usually they show up in the beginning steps, chopped with some celery and onions, as part of the flavor base called mirepoix. I wanted more carrot. More bright flavor. More vitamin A.

And ginger.

I wanted ginger. I wanted spice. I wanted heat. I wanted to eat something that warmed me up and made me less miserable about the fact that my weekend trip to sunny California was over. I love New York, but it was seventy degrees in Palo Alto on Monday. Seventy.

Yeah. I needed more than just ginger. I needed some cumin and turmeric, and a little cream to smooth things out. I needed a few dashes of sherry vinegar to give everything an acidic zip.

Really, I needed one of those lamps they give to people with S.A.D but I made this simple soup instead. And you know, along with an original James Bond movie, it helped.

That’ll do soup, that’ll do.

serves 6


2 tsp butter
1 onion chopped
1 stick celery chopped
1 med potato chopped
1.5 lbs carrots, chopped
1 tbsp fresh ginger chopped
5 cups chicken stock
5 tsp whipping cream
2 tbsp sherry vinegar
1 tbsp ground ginger
2 tsp cumin
2 tsp turmeric
*I put this soup over some cooked farro. But it's fine on it's own, or over some white rice. Depends on how hungry/lazy you're feeling. Ex: 1 cup of uncooked white rice will make enough for a little bit of rice in the soup, 2 cups will give everyone a substantial amount.

In a large pot over medium high heat, melt the butter. Add onion and celery and cook for 5 minutes.

Stir in the carrots, potato, ginger, and stock. Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for twenty minutes.

If you're adding cooked farro or cooked white rice, make it now.

After twenty minutes the carrots should be soft. Puree the soup in a blender, food processor, or with an immersion blender. Put it back in the pot if you’ve taken it out, and stir in the cream, vinegar, cumin, ground ginger, and turmeric. Season with a good amount of salt and freshly ground pepper.

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