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Season's Pick

Carrots

What's not to love? Carrots are delicious chomped raw and taste fabulous cooked on their own or in a range of dishes, from stews to baked goods. Versatility isn't their only strong suit—carrots are incredibly nutritious. It's no wonder people have been saying carrots are tops for 2,000 years.

The Root of It

Carrots are the roots of a plant from the parsley family. Most people are familiar with orange carrots, but there are also purplish-red, yellow and white varieties. In Asia, the Japanese carrot is three feet long or more. The name comes from the Latin carota. The ancient Greeks claimed carrots were a good stomach tonic.

For a long time, Americans often thought of carrots as snack food for horses rather than humans. But in the past 25 years, carrot consumption has nearly doubled.

A+

Carrots have more vitamin A than any other food except liver. This is because they are full of beta-carotene, a natural plant substance that gives carrots their brilliant color, which the body converts into vitamin A. Remember when your mom told you to eat your carrots so your eyesight would be sharp? She was right. Vitamin A helps you see in the dark and promotes healthy eyes in general.

The body actually absorbs the beta-carotene found in carrots better when they are cooked. The heating process helps break down tough cell membranes, making the vitamin more readily available. Any beta-carotene that the body doesn't turn into vitamin A acts as a powerful antioxidant that may help prevent cancer. Plus, carrots contain other vitamins and minerals and are rich in fiber.

Chinese doctors believe that carrots ease whooping cough and coughs in general, according to a cookbook of health-giving Asian recipes, "A Spoonful of Ginger", by Nina Simonds. She recommends hot carrot tea with a little brown sugar for heartburn.

What to Look For

Pick young, firm carrots that still have their lacy, green tops—they're the sweetest and the freshest. Surprisingly, large carrots are often more flavorful than their baby counterparts because they've had a chance to mature. Avoid soft, shriveled or cracked carrots, which likely have a coarse core. Carrots are available year round.

Plastic wrapping promotes rot, so avoid buying prepackaged carrots when you can, or remove the wrapping when you get them home.

At home, trim the leafy tops off; otherwise they'll sap nutrients from the vegetable. Carrots will keep in the refrigerator for a week or more. Try not to store them in the same bin as apples, because that fruit releases ethylene gas that can make carrots taste bitter.

Tops in the Kitchen

Carrots are dynamic. They can be eaten fresh, steamed, braised, sautéed, boiled, roasted or baked. Cook them until just tender. Carrots partner well with just about anything, from herbs like thyme, dill and mint to spices like cumin and ginger. These orange delights also are naturals with a bit of sweetness from honey or brown sugar.

Keeping washed and ready-to-eat carrot sticks in the refrigerator is a winning snack for all ages.

— Leila Corcoran

Try carrots in these FoodFit recipes:

Breakfast Bread with Carob and Carrots
Bill Wavrin, Rancho la Puerta, Baja, CA
Moroccan Carrots
Joyce Goldstein, The Mediterranean Kitchen
Peanut-Noodle Salad with Carrots and Peas
Jody Adams, Rialto, Boston, MA
Risotto with Fresh Carrots
Shrimp Stir-Fry with Chinese Cabbage, Carrot and Broccoli
Chilled Baby Carrot Salad with Ginger-Soy Vinaigrette

 

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