The Not-So-Humble Carrot

Sometimes it seems that the most ubiquitous foods are the most under-appreciated. I’m pretty sure that if you were to ask someone to think of a vegetable off the top of her head, the likelihood that “carrot” would come up first is pretty high. But who really gives carrots a second thought? I mean, yeah, they’re orange and kind of phallic, but I think most of us take them for granted despite these two rather special characteristics. And that’s a darn shame, because carrots are wonderful for so much more than dipping in hummus as a tasty afternoon snack.

You probably know where I’m heading with this, but allow me to give you a brief bit of background info before I get to the good stuff. First, for your healthy body, carrots are chock-full of carotenoids, and a diet high in carotenoids (both alpha and beta carotene) has been shown to decrease the incidence of certain cancers. Beta carotene also keeps your immune system strong and helps to promote cell growth. Carrots are bursting with vitamins A, K, and C, and they’ve got respectable amounts of fiber and potassium to boot. Plus, the potency of carrots’ antioxidants has been shown to increase when cooked! That last bit is good to hear, because although I love raw carrots, I also love using them in baked goods. ;) So let’s get to that, shall we?

Last night, to do his part in our clean-out-the-fridge attempt, Dad grated up all our remaining carrots and threw together a carrot salad as a side dish for dinner. But there were a few cups of leftover grated carrot left after he made the salad, so Dad turned to me to do away with the remainders, and I knew just what to make.

Immediately I thought of the Carrot-Raisin Muffins from VWaV. I remember these little suckers fondly. Last winter when I was still at school, I whipped up a batch and froze a couple of them for my big comps exam weekend. During the first weekend in April, I took my comprehensive exercise exam and wrote a bunch of essays on a predetermined list of literature; Carleton requires students to take ginormous exams or write long papers to prove that we’ve actually learned something during our four years. ;) I did almost all my essay writing in the Libe, and prepared a big snack tray of delicious brainfoods to keep me going. I took along a couple of these muffins, and they helped me not only to pass the exam but to achieve distinction on my comps. Needless to say, I now associate carrot muffins with grreaaatt successss. ;)

So last night I made a batch of Carrot & Cran Muffins, replacing the raisins with dried cranberries because, as I’ve said before, raisins remind me of bloated insects and I am rather stubborn when it comes to including them in my baked goods. I think cranberries make a delicious substitution, personally.

Carrot & cran numminess!

Yum! Healthy and delicious. I love the fact that these muffins contain two whole cups of grated carrot. They’re so hearty and fresh tasting. But I didn’t stop with muffins. I turned to Isa and Terry – as I so often do – and decided to make a batch of Carrot Cake Cupcakes for a not-so-healthy dessert.

More carroty deliciousness.

Color me seriously, seriously impressed with these cupcakes. Although VCTOtW has yet to fail me, this might be one of my favorite recipes. I know this picture doesn’t actually show the cupcake’s crummy innards, but trust me – these babies had that sort of smoothness that makes a great carrot cake, and the flavor was phenomenal, even with my minor moderations. Although I know that “classic” carrot cakes contain nuts, my sister is allergic to all nuts, and I never bake anything that I can’t share with everyone! So I replaced the walnuts with sunflower seeds to retain the crunch that nuts give to the cake, and I think it added a really interesting textural change (not to mention some extra protein). I also failed to find soy yogurt at the supermarket (ugh), so I hit up Google for an alternative. I found this recipe for soy yogurt replacer from Celineyum, but I think I used too much cornstarch because my soy “yogurt” was quite gummy. This in turn led to some rather gummy batter, but after adding a little extra soy milk, I think I fixed it. Once baked, the cupcakes teetered on the edge of being the tiniest bit gummy, but not enough that anyone would really notice since they were so darn tasty and moist. They were a huge hit with everyone, especially after I totally de-healthified them by adding the vegan cream cheese frosting from VCTOtW. Mmm.

While Googling nutritional info on carrots for this post, I came across some interesting (ahem) websites. First, Oprah tried to tell me that I should “hide” carrots in her recipes for Italian meatloaf, brownies, and cranberry sauce. Thanks, Oprah, but no way – I want my beautiful bright carrots where I can see them, out in the open and sharing their gorgeous color with the world! The last thing I want to do with carrots is stow them shamefully away in a hodgepodge of ground-up animal flesh. No sirree, no carrots in meatloaf for me. Then I discovered the World Carrot Museum, which isn’t an actual museum but an online devotional for people even more obsessed with carrots than I am. And if you’re interested in juicing – something I don’t do nearly often enough – you should check out this site for some carrotastic juice recipes.

Bottom line? Carrots are amazing and delightfully multifunctional. I love love love veggies in desserts; zucchini bread is one of my all-time favorite quickbreads. And carrots cake? You just can’t beat it. Plus, look how colorful these suckers can be!

Colorful carrots!
(Yeah, I borrowed that photo from here.)

So do yourself a favor and go give those orange veggies in your crisper drawer some lovin’! Your body (and tastebuds) will thank you for it. :)

Ciao!

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