Carrots, despite their vibrant hue, are a vegetable that sit quietly in the background. Mostly, they are served as a side, roasted among others, hidden in a stew, diced into a stir fry or grated as part of a salad or pattie. You can’t stuff one, present one as a main dish and only in the 80s did they get dressed up in honey and sesame and presented as something fancy. And while carrots rarely gets centre stage, they are always there, colouring a dish and nourishing us in the background – at least they have been for me.
First growing in the wilds of Afghanistan, the original carrot was pale purple, small and not very sweet. The carrot became known throughout the Islamic world during the ninth and tenth centuries and they made it to Holland in the fourteenth century. The Dutch were responsible for breeding them to be orange and they were first introduced into England during the Elizabethan period. In Australia, the first carrot seeds came out on the First Fleet and carrots were an important crop for the first settlers. It reportedly took until after World War I for the Americans to take to the carrot.
It’s not until the last few years that heirloom varieties have been grown for sale here in Australia, and it’s wonderful to see purple, yellow and white carrots grown alongside the orange. The brighter the colour, the more concentration of nutrients and carrots are one of the few vegetables that retain, if not improve, in nutrients once cooked. If you buy organic don’t peel carrots, as much of their nutrients are attached to the skin (though when grating the skin will blacken, so if making a salad keep this in mind). Their health promoting properties are numerous and are full of nutrients that protect and help the body cleanse, repair and strengthen.
I have two recipes today to make up for my shameless lack of posting this year – both are incidents of where carrots actually do take centre stage.
the best carrot cake… ever!
I have always been a massive carrot cake fan and will choose it over any other. I have no idea where I got the below recipe, I’m sorry,
as I found it about eight years ago when I was looking for cake recipes for my friend’s wedding cake. I had never seen pineapple in one before so copied it down. I’ve changed the flour from wheat and the sugar type/quantity and have never entertained another recipe since. The pineapple makes it super moist and it’s one of the more healthy (and delicious) cakes around. I recently experimented to make it vegan and sugar-free and the results were delicious.
2 cups plain spelt flour (barley flour works well also)
2 teaspoons baking powder (aluminum free)
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
2 tsps ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp allspice
1 cup rapadura sugar* or Billingtons brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 ¼ cups sweet almond oil
2 cups grated carrots
1 can (400g) crushed pineapple in juice, drained well
1 cup chopped walnuts
¾ cup sultanas (optional)
- preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Grease a cake tin and line the bottom with baking paper
- in a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Set aside
- in a separate larger bowl, mix together the eggs, sugar, oil and vanilla by hand. Stir in the oil
- gradually stir in the dry ingredients, then fold in the carrots, pineapple coconut, walnuts and raisins
- pour the batter into the prepared pan – it will be quite runny like a caramel consistency
- bake for 55 to 60 minutes or until a small knife inserted into the cake comes out clean.
* you can successfully replace the eggs with 2 bananas, and the sugar for 1 cup of chopped dates that have been soaked in 2/3 cup boiling water for 20 minutes then mashed. These will obviously change the flavour so perhaps try flax/chia to replace the eggs instead of banana to keep more of the original flavour.
I rarely ice this cake (as it is perfect as is) except if it’s someone’s birthday. If you want to ice it, you can’t beat a cream cheese icing – and there is a vegan cream cheese from tofutti that makes a good substitution for dairy, though it’s not particularly healthy due to being quite processed.
I played with a cashew nut icing but ran out of time to perfect it. I found a few links to some vegan icing alternatives so will try these out next time – see below.
250g cream cheese, softened
¼ cup icing sugar*
finely grated rind of 1 lemon
juice of 1-2 lemons (to taste)
chopped walnuts to decorate
- add the cream cheese and lemon into a bowl and mix well with a fork
- add 2 tbsp of the icing sugar and mix well. Taste and play with the amounts to suit your like of lemon and sweetness – I used less icing sugar than ¼ a cup but then again I’m not a big fan of icing sugar
- spread over the cooled cake and sprinkle with chopped walnuts for decoration, if desired.
* if you have a coffee grinder or thermomix, you can use organic raw sugar and make your own. I’m sure rapadura would work as well if you wanted to try.
Healthier vegan icing alternatives:
I received the wonderful cookbook Simon Bryant’s Vegies for Christmas and really like his cooking style and attitude to food and ingredients. This is the first recipe I’ve made from it and it was pretty amazing. A word of warning though: this soup is quite sweet, despite the spices. I found a small bowl perfect and was won over by its tang and aroma. I didn’t have farrow so used cooked quinoa instead.
carrot, farro, coriander, mint and orange soup
3 tbsp cracked farro, soaked overnight
100ml ev olive oil
1 onion, finely diced, 4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 cinnamon stick
1kg carrots, diced
4 tbsp white wine
sea salt and cracked pepper to taste
finely grated zest and juice of 1 orange
1 handful each of mint, coriander leaves, chopped
½ cup Greek yoghurt*
*I used coconut cream instead –it will be a bit runnier than yoghurt
- drain the farro, discarding the soaking water. Place in a heavy-based saucepan with ¾ cup water and 1 tsp salt and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook the farro for 20 minutes until it’s tender to the bite, drain and set aside
- heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat and sweat the onions until soft and translucent.
- add the garlic, coriander, cumin and cinnamon and sauté for 5 minutes, then add the carrots and 3 tsp salt and sauté for a further 5-8 minutes until the carrot is coated and slightly coloured
- deglaze the pan with the wine, then add 800ml of water and simmer on a low heat until the carrot is tender
- remove the pan from the heat and discard the cinnamon. Carefully blend the soup using a stick blender. Add the orange juice and more salt if needed
- fold the orange zest and herbs into the yoghurt/coconut cream and add a pinch of salt. Place a large spoonful of farro into a bowl and ladle the soup over the top
- garnish with the herb yoghurt and finish with a splash of olive oil.
- Onstad, Dianne, Wholefoods Companion