We’ve just planted some winter veg and the crop I’m most looking forward to harvesting is the Dutch carrots. Even though we usually buy carrots nude from the supermarket, I confess I love the look of the green tops – and they’re a great indicator of freshness. And they make harvesting fun too: just grab and pull. One of my favourite ways to eat this sunshine-y root vegetable is roasted whole with a short length of stem still on (just brush with oil and bake). With the water content reduced by the oven, the caramelisation of the natural sugars create a kind of magic in your mouth and one of the many reasons I shall never be a raw foodist! Which reminds me of another favourite way to enjoy them: with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and honey (and a sprinkle of cumin if you like a little spice). (The photo is from The Low GI Family Cookbook, Hachette Australia and Da Capo Lifelong Press.)
Carrots are one of the most popular vegetables in our kitchen and for good reasons. For a start they are very versatile: they are delicious raw or cooked, and can blend in to most dishes whether it is a stir fry, casserole, grill or salad. It’s really no wonder you’ll find them in most people’s refrigerator. I love them in soup at the moment and marvel how well they go with chicken and chickpeas, or in the slow cooker with beef and lentils. There’s another kind of magic that happens when carrots are cooked long and slow and turn to velvet but still hold their shape: so comforting. But of course carrots also shine in summer salads and the trick to a super salad is to slice the carrot in long slender strips or ribbons. You can do strips or batons with a sharp knife but you’ll look like a pro if you use a julienne blade on a V-slicer that produces willowy, regular lengths that look gorgeous and perform a texture tango in your mouth. Another idea is to use a vegetable peeler to slice long ribbons and do the same with zucchini to create a two-colour ribbon salad that only need your favourite chopped herbs and a knockout vinaigrette dressing.
Aside from all this, carrots are really good for you. They even give their name to a family of phytochemicals called carotenoids: carrots are rich in a particular type called beta-carotene that gives them their orange colour. But carrots were purple or dull yellow 5000 years ago in Afghanistan where they are thought to originate, but these ‘heirloom’ varieties are now available again and look simply spectacular on your plate. Being root vegetables, carrots of any colour are high in fibre for digestive health. They also have impressive amounts of vitamin K for healthy bones, vitamin C for immunity and potassium to maintain ideal blood pressure. And if that wasn’t enough, munching on carrots is good for the teeth and gums too because they massage the gums and increase production of saliva which rinses out the mouth and helps to protect against decay.
Raw or cooked, carrots won’t send your blood glucose on a roller coaster ride either. End of story. Why? Well, not only are they low GI (39), they have very few carbs. In fact, to get a hefty portion of carbs from carrots you’d have to crunch through at least 5 cups or 750g (about 1½lb) at a sitting – a pretty awesome achievement even for carrot lovers.
Everybody knows carrot juice (GI 43) is uber-healthy so next time you’re wandering about town and need an energy and hydration hit, try carrot, apple and ginger juice. While you miss the benefits of fibre in juice form, it’s so much better than a soft drink (soda).
Nicole Senior is an Accredited Practising Dietitian and Nutritionist, author, speaker, consultant, and commentator with an interest in how we can learn to love good food that's good for us.