We are one of those households that always has a five pound bag of organic carrots sitting on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. Why, you ask? Well, aside from the fact that we really, really, really like carrots, we’re also half an hour from the nearest store, and carrots keep really, really, really well. Also, in the winter, they brighten all that desperately depressing limpy looking produce that makes its way so flavorlessly from the central California industrial organic fields. Those Earthbound products—do they ever have any taste? Well, they’re good for fresh and organic when you can’t get anything else, but if you can….
Anyway, the best five pound bags of carrots up here in the snowy winter wastes of southern Oregon come from a reasonably local, reasonably family-ish sort of farm in northern California. They’re more expensive than the Earthbound bags, but they are so, so worth it. How worth it, you ask? Well, when I put out carrot sticks at lunch from the local bag, Alex actually looks up from whatever he’s reading and says, “Why do these carrots taste so good?”
From a man who has been known to eat disgusting plastic packaged sandwiches while traveling, for days on end, not discriminating between cheese and pickle, and olive and cream cheese (and they are, indeed, hard for even a discerning palate to discriminate between, at least if said palate is blindfolded), this is praise of an extraordinary order.
So, needless to say, when these carrots are available (and they start to come in around mid-February), I buy them by the sack load. First I fish out all the tiny, slender, pretty little carrots from the bag (they’re all different sizes, usually), and serve them unpeeled but scrubbed alongside soups or sandwiches for lunch. I peel and shred the larger carrots, and put them on top of whole wheat tortillas, under refried beans and chopped cilantro/green onions/avocado, with a little shredded cheese, also for lunch. Or I shred them and make them into a salad: lemon/thyme/olive oil dressing; or lime juice/soy sauce/chili oil; or lemon juice and walnut oil; or just a good plain red wine vinegar vinaigrette. Or I slice them and cook the in a little water and butter, add powdered ginger and brown sugar, turn up the heat and sauté till the water disappears and the carrots are nice and browned, then I toss with lots of chopped parsley…for a dinner veggie side dish. Or, of course, my favorite shredded carrots cooked in cream (see Jam Today; that recipe alone is worth paging through it, if I do say so myself). There are about a hundred and fifty other things I do with those carrots. But for now, I’m only going to tell you about one…one of the more useful ones, in fact.
This is for those carrots at the end of the bag. The ones that are starting to look a little tired, but not so tired that I move them over into the dog stodge bag with the ends and peelings of their fellows that will go into the dogs’ food when I make it up. The carrots that are still good, but not perky enough to make me want to make them into raw salads.
This is a great recipe. I found it originally in a Mexican cookbook for pickled zucchini, which, given the zucchini situation around here at the height of the growing season, has always come in very handy. These aren’t the kind of pickles you store in jars; these are the kind you make up quickly, stick in a glass bowl in the refrigerator, give a stir or two to every day for one or two or three days, and then eat. Simple. Tasty. Cheap. My favorite kind of recipe.
First take however many carrots you feel like pickling. For two of us, and the way we use them, I’ll usually use about five or six medium ones. But the quantity doesn’t matter; it’s the technique here, which is as follows:
Slice your carrots however thick you like them. (I like them thin because I like the vinegary flavor to penetrate all the way through.)
Slice an onion, or a part of an onion, if you have one or a part of one handy.
Crush a clove or two or three of garlic.
Heat up a few tablespoons of oil in a skillet you can cover later. Throw in the carrots and the onion. Cook, stirring from time to time, over medium heat for about three minutes. Now throw in the garlic cloves. Salt.
Turn the heat down to low, cover the pan, let the carrots cook till tender—this will depend on how young and what size your carrots are. Check them from time to time and give them a stir to keep them from sticking.
When they’re tender, turn the whole mess out into a glass storage container to keep in the fridge. I like a shallow rectangular one for this particular use.
Now pour in vinegar—red wine vinegar is great—about halfway up the carrots.
Sprinkle with dried oregano. Make sure the oregano has got a good, strong, resinous oregano-ey smell. Mexican oregano is the best here, or good quality organic oregano (though I have to admit, I like the Mexican stuff in the bags you buy at Mexican markets the best).
Give the whole thing a stir. Put in the refrigerator. For the next 48 hours, when you think of it, give the carrots another stir. After about two days, they’re ready to eat…they’re not pickled enough before that for my taste, but you’ll have your own ideas.
And how do you eat them? Our favorite way is on top of refried beans on tortillas, with a little sour cream garnish, for lunch. But they’re good as a side salad, too. Or mixed into a green salad. Or…or…or…
They’re just plain good. And try it with zucchini, too…zucchini season will be here upon us before we know it. That being the way it is with seasons, after all.