Summer is full of countless treasures; so many vegetables in the market, so much fruit readily available. It’s very easy to get carried away in the excesses as you scramble to sample all that is available before it’s gone for the year. And sometimes, while you hop through the tomatoes nd the sugar peas, you chance upon an old friend from a colder time, the bright orange root with cool green plume. What you’ve just rediscovered is the lovely, saffronesque carrot.
Growing up, the carrot was a vegetable often consumed raw or in sweets. My mom included it in several salads. There were also some decadent sweets made from carrots that were a pleasure to eat. Sometimes, it would be used as a filler vegetable in curries and dals, or in sambar. Carrots have a way of soaking up flavour while passing some of their own on into the dish. There are few things as delicious as a curry-soaked piece of carrot. It is, at once, understandably soft yet with a bit of surprising bite, sopped up in spicy goodness. It is incredible.
Carrots were generally a welcome vegetable among my generation in India; partly because of the popular detective Karamchand in the 80s, but mostly because with their slight sweetness which makes them an easy vegetable for kids to love. My liking of the vegetable only increased as I grew older. One of my favourite snacks still is a bit of raw shredded carrot tossed with some lemon juice and salt. But it wasn’t until I came to live here in San Francisco that I truly came to appreciate the nuanced flavour of a roasted carrot.
Indian kitchens aren’t very big on ovens. It was a rare kitchen that actually had one until very late in the last century. Some time in the 90s, my mom acquired for herself a small, counter-top version of an oven, a toaster oven if you will, which allowed us to experiment to some extent with kababs and cakes. But most of my baking and roasting began after graduate school, here in this city. Once I tasted the warm, caramelized flavour that most veggies develop after the long, hot sauna of the oven, I was hooked. It was only a matter of time before I tried it with carrots. What gave me the necessary impetus were these gorgeous, golden sunset roots that I found in the market. That, along with the inspiration that dawned upon me while thumbing through my surprisingly still-pristine copy of Cook with Jamie. (My secret? Leave the cookbook outside the kitchen and walk out to read the recipe…. I know, I need help.)
Roasted Carrots with orange and coriander
with combinations suggested in Jamie Oliver’s Cook with Jamie
Serves 2 as a side (or one for lunch if I’m one of the two)
Carrots – 4, cut into 1/2” slices
Orange – 1, zested, then juiced
Garlic – 4 cloves, smashed
Thyme – 8-10 sprigs
Ginger – 1/2 teaspoon, grated
Coriander seeds – 1 tablespoon
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil – a couple of tablespoons
– Pre-heat the oven to 350°F.
– In a bowl, toss the carrots with the orange zest, juice and olive oil. Spread in a small roasting or sheet pan.
– Bash the coriander seeds up in a mortar and pestle until it becomes a coarse powder. (You can use a spice grinder if you’re in a hurry but it’s more fun the first way!)
– Sprinkle the coriander powder on to the carrots and toss on the smashed garlic cloves.
– Add a couple of grinds of black pepper and season with salt. Add the sprigs of thyme.
– Give the carrots a bit of a mix up, spread evenly on the pan and roast for about 45 minutes or until the carrots caramelize.
The carrots smell heavenly as they slowly roast. They come out of the oven deliciously and deeply browned, even blackened. I like them that way. It was hard to wait until they had cooled down so I could pop one in my mouth. It may seem incongruous with the vegetable, but somehow their light, citrus flavour conveyed the promise of summer. The coriander seeds add a wonderful grassy, smoky flavour to the party, melding with the juices of the orange and carrot to form a lovely glazed coating on the carrot. Amey popped one into his mouth and I had a hard time keeping him away from it until lunch.
A later batch of this recipe was great when eaten with some pasta. The carrots added a sweet, warm depth to the mushroom sauce and penne, creating an entirely new flavour profile. The roasting really concentrates all that is good in this vegetable. I think they would be great sprinkled on some pizza as well.
It is summer and there is some truly great produce out there. But culinary nirvana can be achieved with the easily accessible carrot even when the summer veggies are gone. One bite will transport you right back to brilliant sunshine. Plus it’s hard not feel happy when you are looking at something so remarkably sunny in appearance.