By Allison Levine, Foodable Contributor
Bright orange, crunchy, and slightly sweet, we are all familiar with carrots. They’re the favorite food of Bugs Bunny. They’re a classic item in a school lunch. We were even told as children that eating carrots was good for eyesight.
Carrots are good for you. They’re possibly one of the world’s healthiest foods. Rich in beta-carotene, for which they are named, carrots are full of a variety of antioxidants and healthy nutrients.
And now carrots are not just for munching raw or for chopping up with celery and onions to make the base of a soup or stew. With restaurants offering more vegetable-driven menus, it is time for carrots to take a front seat.
Versatility of Carrots
Carrots are available year-round but locally grown carrots are seasonal. They’re at their freshest and most flavorful in the summer and fall. The three main types of carrots available in the market today are sweet baby carrots, common large orange carrots, and earthy heirloom carrots that come in a variety of colors such as red, yellow, green, and white.
Carrots are versatile and can be prepared in a multitude of ways: broiled, roasted, steamed, sautéed, stir-fried, or dehydrated. As explained by Chef Curtis Stone, who featured carrots as the seasonal ingredient in the January tasting menu at Maude in Beverly Hills, “When carrots’ sugars are caramelized and concentrated during the cooking process, they add deep, balanced flavor to savory and sweet dishes and pair exceptionally well with beef, lemon, orange, ginger, celery, chervil, fennel, cumin, thyme, and parsley.”
Whether as a side dish, a main dish, or even in a cocktail, the bright color and sweet flavors of carrots are taking center stage at many Los Angeles restaurants.
From the long tapered, vibrant orange carrot to purple, yellow, dark red, and white heirloom varieties to the green leaves and roots, all elements and varieties of carrots were utilized in Maude's January Carrot menu. In the 10-course menu, carrots were pickled, dehydrated, pureed, smoked, poached in ver jus, cooked in brown butter, and cut into long thin ribbons. Carrots were paired with bonita crudo, salmon, seared foie gras, ricotta tortellini, lamb belly and raw cow’s milk. For dessert, there was carrot frozen yogurt paired with a mandarin granita and roasted carrot rosettes served with gingersnaps and ginger ice cream. The mignardises after dinner showcased carrots in pate feuilletee, macaroons, and marshmallows. The sweetness and texture of the carrots shone through in each dish, exemplifying the diversity of the single root vegetable.
At Picnic LA in Culver City, Chef Alex Resnick roasts Babé Farms carrots and tops them with Drake Family Farms chévre, honey sunflower seed, Turkish apricots and za’atar. Chef Resnick's carrot choice is the Atlas carrot which is small and round. As the carrot gets fatter, it forms a ball shape but it never gets long. Chef Resnick says that the Atlas carrot, “reminds me of turnips but when you eat them, they are sweet, not spicy.” He also notes that because of their shape, Atlas carrots cook in a uniform manner.
At Komodo, Chef Erwin Tjahyadi has created a menu mixing the flavors of Indonesia, Mexico, and California in tacos, salads, and other dishes. As a side dish, carrots are a regular item on the menu and the dish is the number one side dish sold in both restaurant locations. Using heirloom carrots that are dwarf carrots, they are blanched, sautéed in butter and garlic, and topped with extra virgin olive oil and parsley.
At Osso, Chef Nick Montgomery uses the entire carrot, including the leafy carrot tops. He thinks that if you use spinach for spinach pasta, then why not use the carrots in pasta? The tops are pureed and then rolled into the pasta dough. The chlorophyll in the carrot tops is what turns the pasta a vibrant green color. The tortellini are then stuffed with confit chicken thigh and foie gras and placed in a bowl with a delicate and earthy consommé of carrot, hazelnuts, fine herbs, and pickled cherry peppers.
Scratch|Bar & Kitchen
At Scratch Bar & Kitchen — as well as in his other restaurant, The Gadarene Swine — Chef Phillip Frankland Lee uses carrots for everything — from carrot syrups to chips, and also uses carrot tops for garnishes. Chef Lee explains that his preference is to use baby heirloom carrots as their size makes them easier to cook. And because the colors of baby heirloom carrots vary, they are fun to use in a dish. Chef Lee is currently roasting heirloom carrots over an open flame and then serves them with house-made Greek yogurt and pistachio.
The Fiscal Agent
Los Angeles’ newest cocktail bar in Studio City, The Fiscal Agent offers a creative cocktail menu, including the Silly Rabbit (carrot, Denizen white rum, banana, coconut & kaffir lime foam). Bartender Kristina Howald was eating Thai green curry when she was inspired by the prominent flavors of kaffir, coconut, and carrot. She decided to translate the dish into a cocktail. Using table carrots, the drink is made with fresh carrot juice and a caramelized banana syrup. Filled with vitamins, the Silly Rabbit is a favorite on the Fiscal Agent menu.
At vegan restaurant Crossroads in West Hollywood, carrots are utilized in a few dishes on the menu. There is a spicy Moroccan carrot salad with marinated carrots, chili cumin, and marcona almonds, and fettuccine with smoked carrots, capers, kelp caviar, and prosecco cream. Chef and owner Tal Ronnen and his executive chef, Scot Jones, have reimagined carrots just as they reinvented the traditional bagel and lox into an entirely plant-based item. Using heirloom carrots, the carrots are smoked and laced with nori to impart the seafood flavor, resulting in a soft, dense, and rich flavor that mimics smoked salmon.