Monday, November 29, 2010

Serving Up Purple Carrot Greens

A friend once observed that I have an almost absurd penchant for purple vegetables. Purple cabbage is (or at least was in America) a regular ingredient in our salads. Beets are a favorite in any way, shape, or form, although beet caviar remains my favorite version. Purple basil - also known as Opal - has wound it's way into my garden or flowerpots regularly, and the purple bloom of bergamont is rather tasty, too.

So, it's no surprise that on a visit to the Ebisu Farmer's Market last weekend that when I spotted a display of purple carrots I veritably dashed over for a closer look. So dark they almost looked black, they stood in stark contrast to their lush green tops. Their orange neighbor carrots seemed rather dull in comparison. A more earthy taste than their orange counterparts, it was their appearance upon slicing that really took my breath away: a center burst of white surrounded by deep purple.

According to The Carrot Museum website, the first known cultivated carrots came from Afghanistan and were purple. Orange didn't come on the scene until sometime in the 1500's, and by then yellow and red carrots were also available. This particular cultivar may not be quite that old, but I like to imagine it's forebears made their way here on assorted trade vessels long ago. As a root vegetable, I presume it traveled well, and would been one of the few "fresh" things sailors might have eaten.

The Leaves
As the title suggests, though, the greens also got my attention. Usually, I simply cut them off and send them off to the compost bin. But these seemed so verdant and I noticed as I moved them about the gave off a scent reminiscent of shungiku. Could it be?

Any other deep green green is deemed incredibly edible, good for you, and profoundly delicious. Our garden and menu often includes kale, komatsuna, shungiku, spinach, broccoli (even the leaves), and others of that ilk. More and more studies show that leafy green vegetables are beneficial in a variety of ways (fending off diabetes and assorted cancers, maintain vision, staving off heart disease and high blood pressure, great sources of calcium, etc., etc.) and that anywhere from five to 25 cups of them (as well as other fruits and vegetables) need to be eaten in a day. (Check out this great alternative food pyramid from the University of Michigan. More attractive than it's government counterpart, it's also more sensible.) For me, these are all side benefits of the fact that they are incredibly tasty.

I liked the idea, too, of using all of a plant and leaving nothing to waste. (I'm channeling Emma Cooper here, perhaps, whose book The Alternative Kitchen Garden I'm currently reading to review.) The leaves, again according to The Carrot Museum in the UK (a next vacation destination if ever there was one!), are edible, nutritious, and full of everything a body needs.
I fingered these lovely leaves thoughtfully for a moment, and then decided to charge forward with a grand experiment. Why not make them just as I do Goma Ai Shungiku?

The Results
Using the chrysanthemum recipe for cooking the carrot greens offered mixed results. The stems close to the carrot itself were quite thick and required a bit more cooking time. The feathery parts of the leaves and nearby stem were delicious, although they also would have benefited from a slightly longer cooking time. I would suggest cooking them for 90 seconds or even a full two minutes. I'll be trying this again, and will post results of future experiments.

A Few More Resources
Darya Pino over at Summer Tomato wrote this piece on the myth of super foods that offers good advice for thinking of food as not just nutrients, but as food and the power of eating a diverse diet of whole foods.

Purple carrots aren't new to the world, but knowledge of their specific health benefits is. This article, suggests they may be the next super food for their antioxidant properties. (Make sure you read Darya's article first, please!)

This recipe for purple carrot and purslane salad sounded lovely. I've already imagined replacing the pine nuts with walnuts, making the feta cheese soft tofu instead, and using rice vinegar rather than red wine vinegar for the dressing. (It also appeals to me as purslane is one of those unsung garden heroes, in my opinion.)

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Those purple carrots are beautiful - thank you for the post! My mother often used carrot tops in cooking - my favorite...and possibly the least healty - tempura carrot tops! :-D

Anonymous said...

Gorgeous pictures. Wonderful post. Carrot leaves (and turnip for that matter) are great in miso soup too.

Joan Lambert Bailey said...

Thanks to one or both, Anonymous'! (Not sure if you're the same person.)

Anonymous the First: Tempuraed carrot greens sound lovely! We had sansai of various sorts in tempura on a trip we took last year up north. No, not the healthiest, but it was yummy. How else did your mother use the tops? I'm dying to know more now that I've taken this first step.

Anonymous the Second: Thanks for the good words! I've not tried them in miso, but will do tomorrow night. We've been munching on kabu (are those the turnips you refer to in your comment?) for a week or more now. I'll pop those in as well. Other thoughts or tips are more than welcome!

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