Maroon Carrots? It’s a Root Rainbow

Cooking, Recipes By Mar 10, 2011

I’m not a fan of machine-made “baby” carrots, those whittled down beauties that look like itty bitty bunny food. Conical perfection. Taste bud depression.

Because they are most often shaved down from large carrots, the less tasteful core can make up a larger portion what is eaten. I eat them. They’re convenient. But …

I think a lot of people have forgotten how delicious “real” carrots can be. Orange ones, yes, but maybe some yellow or maroon ones, too.

These beautiful roots offer flavor, color and texture contrast. I love them roasted with fresh herbs. Or, one of my favorites: sweet-spicy pickles.  Both easy to prepare.

A recent chat with produce expert Robert Schueller, Director of Public Relations at Melissa’s World Variety Produce, gave me some insights about carrots in the marketplace.

“Whole carrots that go to fresh market are a small percentage because generally carrots in their natural state don’t look like the beautiful ones we see,” Schueller explained. “They often are thin and twisted, or double jointed.”

Some have so many finger-like roots, he said they look like utters. Less than five percent of carrots are actually sorted to make greens-on bunches for the market.”

The rest? Schueller said they get made into those uniform babies I mentioned, or used for juice.

What to look for?

As for the non-orange varieties, they seem to be popping up in more and more supermarkets. True baby carrots bound together with a twist tie are available at upscale markets and some farmers markets; often they are maroon on the exterior, and either yellow or orange on the interior.

Assortments of different colored large carrots are trimmed and packed in cellophane bags labeled “Rainbow Crunch Carrots.” Schueller said that 30 to 40 percent of local supermarkets carry them.

The color doesn’t affect texture, but the flavor profiles differ. Yellow carrots are often the sweetest. The purple or maroon carrots have the most pronounced root-like “carrot-y” flavor.

Immature baby carrots tend to be sweeter but have less crunchiness than large carrots. More mature carrots have less sweetness but more crunch.

Pickled carrots are delicious as a snack. But they are also delicious chopped and added to taco salads, enchiladas, chili con carne, chicken salads or soups. You can adjust the spiciness by increasing or decreasing the jalapenos. As for the carrots, the quickest approach is to use packaged crinkle-cut carrot “chips,” 1/2-inch thick slices cut with a corrugated blade.

Quick Pickled Carrots
Yield: about 4 cups
2 1/4 cups cider vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon salt
3 cups water
1 (16-ounce) package crinkle cut carrot chips or 1 1/4 pounds carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch thick diagonal slices
1 medium-size red onion, cut top to bottom into 1/4-inch thick wedges
2 large jalapeno chilies, cut into lengthwise eighths, cored, seeded, see cook’s notes
Cook’s notes: Use caution when working with fresh chilies. Wash work surface and hands upon completion and do NOT touch eyes or face.
1. In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, combine vinegar, sugar, salt and water. Bring to boil on high heat. Stir until sugar dissolves. Add carrots, onion and chilies; return mixture to a boil.
2. Reduce heat to medium to medium-low. Gently boil (rigorous bubbles around the edge, but none in the middle) until carrots are tender-crisp, about 10 minutes. Pour into heatproof nonreactive bowl. Cool completely. Cover and refrigerate up to 2 weeks.

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