International Carrot Day is celebrated every year on 4 April with food lovers around the world whipping up their favourite carrot-inspired dishes in honour of this ancient vegetable.
But what of this oddly shaped root crop that comes in a variety of colours in addition to the more commonly recognised orange version? It is thought that the carrot originated in Persia (modern day Iran) and was originally cultivated for its aromatic leaves and seeds rather than its roots. A member of the parsley family, it was first grown for medicinal purposes and, as early as the 10th century, the wild carrot was being used to ease childbirth for women. Other close relatives of the carrot are still grown for their leaves and seeds, such as coriander, fennel, anise, dill and cumin.
One enduring myth about carrots is that they help you see better in the dark. This falsehood was propaganda used by the Royal Air Force during the Second World War to explain why their pilots had improved success during night air battles, but was actually used to disguise their advances in radar technology and the use of red lights on instrument panels.
Nevertheless, the consumption of carrots was advocated in Britain at the time as part of a Dig for Victory campaign and people were encouraged to grow, store and use carrots, with the result that in 1942 there was not only a 100,000-ton surplus of carrots from the extra production, but also a plethora of recipes including carrot jam, carrot soup and Woolton Pie – which was named after Lord Woolton, the Minister for Food.
In South Africa, the most popular carrot dishes include glazed carrots, curried carrot salad, coleslaw and the globally popular carrot cake.
We asked some of the successful alumni graduates from Capsicum Culinary Studio for their favourite carrot recipes and here’s what they sent us …
Franco’s Glazed Carrots
Following a stint at the Four Seasons Westcliff, Franco Buys now works as a Personal Chef providing home cooked meals, platters, healthy meal plans, speciality dishes and cooking classes. He also works with Chef & Guests which provides fine dining 3-5 course meals in the comfort of your own home.
1kg rainbow carrots
2 tbs vegetable oil
4 tbs butter
2 whole garlic cloves
2 tbs of honey
5g fresh thyme
5g fresh sage
Rinse the carrots under cold water to remove any soil. Place the unpeeled carrots into a pot of boiling salted water and blanch for 2 minutes. Remove from water and onto a separate dish and season with salt and pepper. Heat up a pan to high and first add the oil, then the butter, garlic, sage and thyme. Add your carrots and toss in pan until they start to colour slightly. Lower the heat to medium, add the honey and let the carrots glaze and bubble for about a minute or two. Check for seasoning.
These carrots can be served alongside your favourite main or just as is.
Hendrik’s Carrot Muffins (Makes 12 large muffins)
Hendrik Pretorius, who hails from Middleburg, now bakes treats for visitors to the Lisbon-based coffee shop, Simpli, where he works, and says his carrot muffins are always amongst the first to be snapped up by hungry customers.
5ml bicarbonate of soda
20ml baking powder
2 large egg
100g carrots, finely grated
4 tsp cinnamon powder
4 tsp vanilla essence
5ml ginger powder
Preheat oven to 180ºC and place a rack in the centre of the oven.
Grease a 12 cup muffin tray with butter or baking spray. (If you use muffin papers spray them on the inside so the muffins don’t stick.)
In a medium bowl whisk together the oil, yoghurt, milk, eggs and vanilla extract.
In a separate bowl whisk together the flour, salt, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder, cinnamon powder and ginger powder.
Make a well in the flour mixture and pour the wet mixture into the centre of the dry mixture and fold together until the ingredients are well combined.
Add the grated carrots and mix thoroughly. Using a spoon, scoop the mixture into the muffin cups until each cup is about ¾ full.
Bake for 30-35 minutes, rotating the muffin tray halfway through the baking time, until the muffins are golden brown. (Insert a skewer and if it comes out clean the muffins are done.) Remove the muffin pan from the oven and let the muffins cool in the pan before serving.
Hendrik’s notes: The muffins are best served freshly baked but they can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days. They can be refreshed in the oven at 150ºC for 5 minutes.
Harris Hlungwani’s Carrot Meringue Pie
“One of the few things South Africans never stopped doing during lockdown is celebrating their birthdays, so I’ve been providing exquisite personalised custom-made birthday cakes and catering under my newly founded catering company, Generis Taste.”
For the carrot puree:
500g peeled carrots, ends removed
4 tbsp of unsalted butter
1 tbsp of white granulated sugar
2 tbsp of heavy cream
1 pinch of salt
50g of agar agar (use gelatin if agar agar unavailable)
For the crust:
300g tennis biscuits
125ml melted butter
For the Swiss meringue:
6 extra large egg whites
375g white sugar
For the pie crust: Pre-heat the oven to 180°C. Combine the butter and biscuits in a food processor and blend until fine. Transfer to a 23cm/9in pie dish and press into and even, thin layer, including up the sides of the dish and bake for 10 minutes.
For the carrot puree: Cut the peeled carrots into equal small sizes and boil in a medium sauce pan until soft. Drain and then add the carrots, butter, sugar, salt and heavy cream into an electric blender and blend on medium until smooth. Transfer to a saucepan and simmer. Add the agar agar. Add the mixture to the pie crust, cover with clingfilm and leave to cool in the fridge.
For the Swiss meringue: Combine the egg whites and sugar in a large metal or glass bowl and set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Whisk the mixture until the sugar has dissolved. Transfer the bowl to a stand mixer (or use a hand mixer), and with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Dollop the egg whites onto the chilled pie and decorate to your preference. Caramelise the egg whites with a kitchen blow torch until golden brown and serve immediately.
Charmaine’s Chilli Carrot Soup
Pretoria born and raised Charmaine Lehabe is the co-founder of The Squared Experience, a private fine dining company that has been making waves in the capital city. She runs the company, along with her wife and her partner Thandeka Nhlapo, whom she met at Capsicum.
1 tbs butter
1 tbs extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme or parsley
5 cups chopped carrots
2 cups water
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock (liquid)
½ cup cream (optional)
½ teaspoon salt
2 green chillis
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Heat butter and oil in a pan over medium heat until the butter melts. Add onion and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 4 to 6 minutes.
Add garlic and thyme (or parsley) and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 10 seconds.
Stir in carrots. Add water and broth and bring to a lively simmer over high heat.
Reduce heat and simmer gently until very tender, about 25 minutes.
Puree the soup in batches in a blender until smooth (use caution when pureeing hot liquids.)
Stir in the cream (if using) and salt and pepper.
Garnish with chopped parsley and serve with crusty bread.