BY KORNELIA SANTORO
Carrots are a gift of nature and I could not live – or cook – without them. You can find them almost anywhere anytime; they burst with vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients and they taste wonderful.
Whenever I can, I hide carrots in food. You will find them in my tomato sauce, in burgers of any kind and various recipes with legumes.
This month I would like to feature a recipe where carrots play the hero: carrots Moroccan style. This is a light, nutritious side dish, ready in a few minutes, yet it offers a strong flavour profile that can complement many different main dishes.
Just recently, I paired them with a spinach pie at a vegetarian dinner and I dare say my guests enjoyed them. They also go well with any kind of chicken or fish dish.
The Moroccan style in the name refers to the spice mix: ground cumin, cinnamon and chilli powder combine with garlic and parsley to underline the sweetness of the carrots. It is surprising how well cumin and cinnamon go together. Together they transform each other, a typical example where the sum of two ingredients creates a bigger whole.
Another advantage is the fact that you these carrots taste warm or cold. You can prepare them in advance when you host a dinner party and just warm them up for a few minutes in the oven or a microwave – or just serve them cold as they are.
Wishing you happy cooking, always!
Carrots Moroccan Style
(for 4 servings)
6 big carrots
1 bunch flat leaf parsley
2 big garlic cloves
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon red chilli powder
½ teaspoon cinnamon powder
50 ml water
Wash the parsley. Flat leaf parsley tastes much better than curly one but sometimes it is difficult to find. If you cannot buy flat leaf parsley, use curly one.
Clean and crush the garlic. To stabilize the healthy ingredients in garlic you need to expose it to air for five to 10 minutes. After this time the heart protecting nutrients of garlic are resistant to heat.
Peel the carrots. I use a peeler, but if you want you can also scrape them or just brush them.
Halve the carrots lengthwise and cut them diagonally to get nicely shaped pieces.
Heat the olive oil in a pan and add the ground cumin, chilli and cinnamon. Let them sizzle for about one minute to activate their aromatic oils.
Add the chopped carrots and the crushed garlic and mix everything well. Add a bit of water, around 50 ml or so. You don’t need a lot of water; just enough to create a little steam and prevent the carrots from burning.
Close the pan and let the carrots cook for five to ten minutes, depending how you like them. I prefer mine with a bit of bite, so around seven minutes cooking is usually fine for me.
Towards the end of the cooking time, season the carrots with salt and pepper and add the chopped parsley. If the taste of the spices is not strong enough, add some more ground cumin, cinnamon and/or chillies.
Before serving, squeeze the lemons over the carrots to add some zing. I prefer my carrots without lemon juice though.
New insights about carrots
Recently, a 10-year study in the Netherlands has revealed some new insights about our good old carrots. This humble vegetable was eaten already thousands of years ago in Asia, the Middle East and parts of Europe. In the 15th and 16th century they started to be cultivated all over Europe and found their way across the big pond to the new world.
The new study revealed that people who ate 25 grams of carrots a day had a significantly lower risk of cardio-vascular disease. The more carrots you eat the lower your risk for heart disease. A carrot a day should become a new slogan.
I guess, at this point we all know that the orange carotenoids of carrots do us a lot of good by fighting free radicals. But there are other phytonutrients in carrots also called polyacetylenes that inhibit the growth of colon cancer cells.
Carrots belong to the vegetables that benefit from a bit of cooking or steaming. The sturdy fibres of carrots can refuse to be broken down and to reveal all their nutrients when eaten raw. Our bodies easier absorb the beta-carotene of carrots when the carrots are cooked.
Interesting, especially for housewives, is the fact that the phytonutrients of carrots keep well for several weeks in the fridge.
What’s New and Beneficial about Carrots
- We are fortunate to have the results of a new 10-year study from the Netherlands about carrot intake and risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD)—and those results are fascinating. Intake of fruits and vegetables in the study was categorized by color and focused on four color categories: green, orange/yellow, red/purple, and white. Out of these four categories, orange/yellow (and in particular, foods with deeper shades of orange and yellow) emerged as most protective against CVD. And even more striking, carrots were determined to be the most prominent member of this dark orange/yellow food category. Participants who had the least carrot intake had the least amount of CVD risk reduction, even though they still received risk-reducing benefits from their carrot intake. However, participants who ate at least 25 more grams of carrots (with 25 grams being less than one-quarter of a cup) had a significantly lower risk of CVD. And the groups of participants who ate 50- or 75-grams more had an even more greatly reduced risk of CVD! We’re not sure how any study could better demonstrate how easy it can be to lower disease risk by making a food like carrot part of the everyday diet in such achievable amounts.
- Much of the research on carrots has traditionally focused on carotenoids and their important antioxidant benefits. After all, carrots (along with pumpkin and spinach) rank high on the list of all commonly-consumed U.S. antioxidant vegetables in terms of their beta-carotene content. But recent research has turned the health spotlight onto another category of phytonutrients in carrots called polyacetylenes. In carrots, the most important polyacetylenes include falcarinol and falcarindiol. Several recent studies have identified these carrot polyacetylenes as phytonutrients that can help inhibit the growth of colon cancer cells, especially when these polyacetylenes are found in their reduced (versus oxidized) form. These new findings are exciting because they suggest a key interaction between the carotenoids and polyacetylenes in carrots. Apparently, the rich carotenoid content of carrots not only helps prevent oxidative damage inside our body, but it may also help prevent oxidative damage to the carrot polyacetylenes. In other words, these two amazing groups of phytonutrients in carrots may work together in a synergistic way to maximize our health benefits!
- Even people who usually boil carrots have discovered that they taste better steamed! In a recent study examining different methods for cooking vegetables, study participants were asked to evaluate the flavor and overall acceptability of the results. In comparison to boiling, participants in the study significantly favored the flavor and overall acceptability of steamed carrots to boiled carrots. This preference was also expressed by participants who had always boiled carrots in their previous kitchen practices.
- Not surprisingly, research on the carotenoids in carrots has become fairly sophisticated and we now know that it’s especially important to protect one specific form of beta-carotene found in carrots called the (all-E)-beta-carotene isomer. That form of beta-carotene appears to have better bioavailability and antioxidant capacity than another beta-carotene form called the Z (cis) isomer form. With this new knowledge of beta-carotene specifics, researchers in Victoria, Australia wondered about the stability of (all-E)-beta-carotene under proper storage conditions. What they found was excellent retention of (all-E)-beta-carotene under the right storage conditions. Over several weeks period of time at refrigerator temperatures and with good humidity (as might be provided, for example by the wrapping of carrots in damp paper and placement in an air-tight container), there was very good retention of the carrots’ (all-e)-beta-carotene. While we always like the idea of vegetable consumption in freshly-picked form, this finding is great news and gives all of us more flexibility for incorporating carrots into our diet.
The carrot can trace its ancestry back thousands of years, originally having been cultivated in central Asian and Middle Eastern countries, along with parts of Europe. These original carrots looked different from those that we are accustomed to today, featuring red, purple, and yellow coloring rather than the bright orange that we’ve become accustomed to in U.S. supermarkets. Carrots became widely cultivated in Europe during the 15th and 16th centuries and were first brought over to North America during this same general time period.
Carrots are delicious eaten raw or cooked. While heating can often damage some of the delicate phytonutrients in vegetables, the beta-carotene as found in carrots has been shown to be surprisingly heat-stable. In fact, carrots’ beta-carotene may become more bioavailable through well-timed steaming. Still, be careful not to overcook carrots if you want to your carrots to retain their maximum flavor and strong overall nutritional value.