Carrots are nutritious, inexpensive and available year-round, but they can easily get boring if you don't find versatile ways to prepare them. With a little attention to detail, they are delicious steamed, boiled or baked. Learn the pros, cons and caveats of each cooking method, then choose one that enhances the rest of your meal.
Steam for Simplicity
Steaming is one of the healthiest cooking techniques, because vegetables are not directly exposed to water and retain most of their nutrients. It requires no fat and few supplies, which makes it a healthy dish with little fuss. The traditional way to steam carrots -- or any vegetable -- is to boil water about 1-inch deep in a large, wide pot and place a wire basket above the water so it doesn't touch. Cut the carrots into uniform chunks, place them in the basket, cover the pot with a lid and steam until the carrots are fork tender. After removing the carrots from the steamer, immediately plunge them into a bowl of ice water so they keep their color and don't overcook. Steaming doesn't add much flavor to carrots, so add light seasonings such as salt and pepper, freshly squeezed orange juice, minced ginger, a light coating of olive oil or melted butter, balsamic vinegar or fresh herbs.
Boil for Brevity
Boiled carrots are also healthy, quick, and easy, but sometimes lack flavor. Boiling is less healthy than steaming, because direct exposure to hot water cooks the carrots very quickly and reduces some of their nutrient content. Cut the carrots into bigger, uniform-sized chunks so they can withstand the heat without falling apart. Likewise, immediately place carrots in a bowl of ice water when they are fork tender. Once they've cooled, add seasonings to give them more flavor. For example, coat them in an Asian-style sauce with a mixture of soy sauce, rice wine, salt, sugar and scallions.
Bake to Bite Into
Baking carrots is the best way to bring out their flavor, but it takes more time than steaming or boiling and requires the use of added fat. To bake carrots, preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Cut carrots into uniform chunks, such as medallions or short sticks, and place them in a bowl. Mix well with salt and pepper and either melted butter or olive oil. Sprinkle on dried herbs or seasonings, if you like, or add thinly sliced onions. For a sweeter version, use butter and add a little brown sugar and orange juice. "Cook's Illustrated" recommends covering carrots tightly with a sheet of foil. This will allow them to tenderize in the oven without drying out. Bake until tender, about 15 minutes, then remove the foil. Bake for another 30 to 35 minutes until carrots are partially caramelized.
When you have really fresh carrots, steaming them will showcase their natural flavors. To more quickly prepare boiled carrots, boil the water in two smaller pots and combine the pots when they start boiling. To quickly add flavor to boiled or steamed carrots, make herbed butter in advance by creaming a stick of butter with your favorite herbs and citrus zests.
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