Why did I eat half a pound of carrots before tearing myself away from the refrigerator? It is not a Vitamin A deficiency. Nor was I hungry. It was this magic “pickled” carrot recipe with drugs in the ingredients – just kidding, of course, about that last part. I am not kidding about the magic part.
These carrots aren’t exactly pickled. I suppose they could be if the water-to-vinegar ratio was double-checked for optimum bacteria inhibition, and of course if all canning and preserving steps were followed. But there’s no point in actually canning these if they’re eaten in under a week (ahem, sometimes under 4 days). Anyway, they should keep for 4 weeks refrigerated – provided they last that long.
I first tasted these crunchy, addicting snackies during a University of Gastronomic Sciences potluck dinner. A jar of carrot sticks amidst homemade quince tart, cinnamon sticky bread, cheesy focaccia, and endive leaves filled with oniony salsa – who had time for carrot sticks? But all it took was two or three unsuspecting students to reach into the jar, get hooked, and munch through 2/3 of the supplies before they kindly, reluctantly, let me in on the secret. I tried two, glanced the other way, and the carrots were gone. My friend told me they were simple to make: “Just blanch the carrots and soak them in boiled water with vinegar for a while. And I add some sugar and spices.” How long do you soak them? What spices? How much sugar? I wanted to know. My friend shrugged.
Four months later, I googled “pickled carrots” and then created my own recipe based on a mix of the ones I saw. My friend’s casually imprecise directions are pretty much the whole idea behind making these, because if you’re not pickling them, just loosely follow these instructions with your ingredients at hand or of choice. There’s little reason to actually be precise. Here it is.
Ingredients1 kg (2 lbs) carrots, peeled and cut into matchsticks or quarters
2 1/2 C water
2 C vinegar
1/4 C sugar (optional)
3 crushed garlic cloves
Salt to taste
3 tablespoons of spices of your choice – mustard, hot chili, dill, cumin, paprika, etc.
- Blanch carrots in boiling, salted water for one minute, or steam-blanch to retain vitamins for 2 minutes.
- Drain in a colander, reserving the liquid, and run cold water over top to stop cooking.
- Bring remaining ingredients, including 2 1/2 C of water (for this, use the reserved liquid) to a boil in a large saucepan.
- Reduce heat, simmer for a minute or two, then pour over carrots.
- Cool for half an hour outside of fridge, then move to fridge to continue cooling.
- Cover and allow one day for the flavors to develop.
Notes: Skip the blanching step if you like crunchier carrots. Omitting sugar still makes for delicious carrots. If you choose to drain the vinegar before transferring the carrots to their respective jars, add some spices after to avoid losing it all when draining. Or, store the carrots with their liquid.
As an aside: Carrots are packed with Vitamin A, so much so that if you eat too many carrots your body doesn’t know what to do with the extra vitamins, and your skin may turn an attractive orange. I am not kidding, nor being sarcastic about the “attractive” part. A study found that people with a healthy, natural glow, attributed to a higher intake of fruits and vegetables, were rated as more attractive than those with a suntan and those who had eaten fewer fruits and vegetables. But the whole reason for my aside was to say: for most of the Vitamin A to be absorbed by your body, carrots must be blanched, cooked, boiled (better steamed, so you don’t lose the nutrients into the water), roasted – any way to activate the enzymes. Raw carrots are still nutritious; cooked carrots highly so.