Last month I wrote about three components of Jazz music that lend them selves to cooking. Experimentation, practice, and creativity will liberate you in your cooking. Part Two will be an easy lesson you can do in your own kitchen with very little equipment: a sharp paring knife, a box grater, a vegetable peeler, and a bag of large carrots.
Let’s consider the carrot. How do we even feel about carrots? Well, we might only have two ideas about them; raw on a crudité plate or steamed as a side dish, possibly with a little butter. Both are great options. But if we turn all of our senses on, and fully engage ourselves, the carrot possibilities are –I won’t say endless – but they are plentiful! Look at them, feel, smell, taste the carrots as you create the different shapes and textures. Listen for the snap and crunch. Put some jazz music on and have fun with this little experiment.
Take a large raw carrot and peel it with your vegetable peeler. Put the scraps to the side and if you are really ambitious, save them to make a vegetable stock. After removing the skin of the carrot, keep peeling - make ribbons. Once one side of the carrot flattens out, turn it as you peel. Yay carrot ribbons! Hold one up to the light. It is like stained glass! Vitamin A filled edible stained glass. The ribbons resemble noodles. Make a light peanut sauce and let those raw carrot noodles dance in it. You can then use the remaining square sided carrot and slice that up for another interesting shape. Throw them into a vegetable soup.
Grab another carrot, peel it, and grate it on the large holes of a box grater. The already sweet carrot will get even sweeter because you have busted open all its little carrot cells to access the juice. For color and sweet texture, toss this pile of grated carrots into lentils, grains, or beans. Or you can use them in a carrot cake, or Garden Harvest Bread.
What other raw applications can you think of? If you look at the picture above, starting in the upper left hand corner, you’ll see ribbons and little squares. I started with a new carrot and made circles, or coins. Cutting foods into coins is a subtle nod to abundance! I cut the circles in half and made ‘moons.’ Those are good snack bag shapes to put into lunches. Next, I cut a carrot into flat planks. Carrot planks are the perfect vessel for getting some really good hummus into your mouth.
Now let’s consider the ways to cook a carrot. When carrots are cooked, do they mellow? Are they sweeter? What differences are created cooking them in butter, rather than olive oil? Which tastes fruitier? How about cooking them in coconut oil? You can toss some of the carrot coins into different cooking fats and experiment with flavor combinations. Or open up your cabinets and see what spices you have that might lend themselves to carrots. Ground ginger, cinnamon, and cumin are my go-to carrot spices. Be creative!
Stack the carrot planks up and then julienne them into little matchsticks. Take the stack of matchsticks and dice them into confetti. If you worked in a restaurant you might hear the term brunoise. It is fancy vegetable confetti that garnishes things and adds a sweet pop of texture to foods. There is a trend right now to toss chia and flax seeds onto everything we make. Let’s start a new trend and throw carrot confetti on to all of our foods! Carrot matchsticks easily go into noodle stir-fries. Throw them in at the last minute and they will stay crisp.
Under the stack of grated carrots in the picture is a carrot sliced on the bias. This means to slice the carrot at a forty-five degree angle, not straight across. This is one of my favorite shapes to add to a stew. It is also how I roast carrots in the oven. The bias cut looks so elegant on a plate.
I figure if I can do all of this to a carrot, what could I do with cucumbers? Or zucchini? Or potatoes? Just like a jazz musician improvises with the notes within a tune, I encourage you to experiment with other vegetables, practice on the little techniques, and get creative. These slicing and dicing methods will give you more variety in the kitchen, confidence to try new recipes, and I guarantee your little eaters will notice something different about their vegetables.
Last trick: Carrot Flowers! When I was a nanny, this Soba Stew was one of my favorite recipes I made for my 3 and 5 year old boys and their parents. Now granted, New York kids have pretty exposed palates, but I think the sole reason those boys ate this stew was for the floating carrot flowers. I was first given the assignment of making carrot flowers and thought I would lose my job for sure, but I practiced and got good at them. I felt like a rock star! I still make this nearly 17 years later and devote the making of the carrot flowers to those 2 dear little boys that are grown men now.
Working for that family truly made me the cook I am today. I learned how to prepare food for people that I love. I learned that if someone has an expectation of me, my only job is to do my best. And I also learned that mistakes happen all the time; in parenting, in nannying, in cooking, in being a child… But just like in a jazz tune, the music goes on. We are all doing the best we can, improvising and making it up as we go a long.
- 9 cups vegetable broth
- 1 6" x 2" piece of kombu kelp
- 1 head garlic, unpeeled, halved
- 3 carrots, peeled, cut into 1" pieces
- 2 medium onions, quartered, skins on
- 4 scallions
- 3 1/4" slices of fresh ginger
Combine everything in a large pot and simmer for 30 minutes. Drain, reserving the kelp and slicing into juliennes. Add them back into the broth.
To finish the stew:
In a separate pan, boil 8 oz of soba noodles for 8 minutes. After 4 minutes add 1 large carrot cut into carrot flowers.
Just before serving, drain noodles and carrot flowers and add to the original broth.
- 4 scallions thinly sliced
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- 3 tablespoons mirin
- 3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon rind
- 2 tablespoons cilantro leaves
- salt and pepper