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 I grew up on a small, 100-acre farm in Iowa. To make ends meet for our family of seven, my father sometimes worked in nearby Illinois as a tool and die maker. He’d commute to his job on Sunday night and return the following weekend. In the summertime when school was out, my younger sister and I would sometimes travel with my father to his urban home to escape hot and boring days on the farm. (We could also escape working in the garden this way as well.)

During my 13th year, I spent one full summer in Rockland, Illinois, in a house my father had rented. My mother stayed in Iowa with the older kids to keep the farm going, so I was charged with cooking and cleaning for my father and younger sister. Since my cooking skills were limited (and playing outdoors beckoned), I seldom gave much thought to the nightly meal. Mostly, I fried a few potatoes and a piece of meat. The obligatory vegetable was boiled carrots.

As an adult, I’ve often marveled at the patience and uncomplaining nature of my dad. Night after night, especially after a hard day’s work, he sat down to the same unimaginative fare without complaint. I can only surmise that maybe my dad was happy for his daughters’ company  because the food was pathetic.

For their faithful service during the inexperience of my youthful cooking days, carrots won my undying devotion. Later, I learned about their nutritional virtues. Carrots are very low in saturated fat and cholesterol and contain vitamins A, K, C and B6. Besides being a good source of dietary fiber, carrots contain folate, pantothenic acid, iron, potassium and copper.

I’ve branched out since the callow days of my boiled-carrot youth; however, carrots are still a staple in my kitchen. Besides being a basic ingredient in soups and stews, puréed carrots give zing to my meatballs (an old Betty Crocker recipe) and meat loaf.  I also use puréed carrots in spaghetti sauce. Puréed carrots also add moisture to most cakes, including my favorite: zucchini-chocolate cake. During cold winter days, Rachael Ray’s Curried Carrot Soup is a whole meal by itself. And once summer temperatures start to rise, who can resist a refreshing carrot-orange-scallion salad?

Summertime Carrot Salad

Serves 6

2 oranges, peeled, sliced and separated into segments

3 cups grated carrots (about 6 large carrots)

1 cup finely chopped scallions

1/2 cup raisins, dried cherries or dried cranberries, optional

1 teaspoon maple syrup

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons sesame oil

2 teaspoons lemon juice

1 tablespoon frozen orange juice concentrate

6 leaves lettuce

In a large mixing bowl, combine the oranges, carrots, scallions and dried fruit. In a small mixing bowl, combine the maple syrup, salt, sesame oil, lemon juice and orange juice concentrate. Pour the dressing over the orange-carrot-scallion mixture. Toss lightly. Serve the salad on your favorite lettuce leaves.

Photo Credit: Color line on Flickr.

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