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Carrots, tops and all

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An unexpected bounty of homegrown carrots leads to kraut, pesto and more
Photo by Sarah Lemon Xavier harvests a homegrown carrot.
Photo by Sarah Lemon Carrot kraut is a condiment with many uses.
Roasted carrots with carrot top pesto. (Glenn Koenig/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
Spiced Carrot Chutney. (Gretchen McKay/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/TNS)

Pitching in to stack some firewood, my kids didn’t expect payment but still reaped a reward.

Homegrown carrots — like so much kindling — filled a cardboard box in exchange for our labors. And my kids were plenty happy with their haul.

A friend implored us to take some carrots before we left a community work party in rural Josephine County. She planted too many — most for her son, who moved away before their harvest.

This friend’s son has something in common with my youngest, who considers carrots his “treat” from the grocery store when it’s his turn to help me shop. Because these are “his” special carrots, he feels entitled to bunches with green tops intact.

After attempts to consume carrots tops and all, he now understands that leaves and stems fall short on flavor. So he observes me grinding them with fresh herbs, lemon zest and cheese into pesto. Then we toss the pesto with pasta and chunks of roasted carrot or simply serve it as a sauce for whole, oven-roasted roots.

That treatment wasn’t ideal for our friend’s specimens, which had spent enough time in the soil to sprout some finely textured whiskers. The hairs didn’t keep the boys from munching one apiece on the hour-long drive home. Irrespective of size, carrots this fresh are reliably sweet.

I knew the carrots would keep for at least a few weeks in their cardboard box in our garage. But with the temperature warming, and only so many ways we could eat about 15 pounds of carrots, I started brainstorming solutions.

Juice them, our friend said. But we won’t get that much juice for the quantity of carrots, said my partner. And it’s a lot of work to unbox, set up, then clean up the juicer.

Another appliance emerged with the answer. A shredding attachment I’d never used with my KitchenAid mixer would make relatively easy work of processing the carrots for a recipe I’d run across in my files: carrot kraut.

Calling for 8 pounds of carrots, this method comes from local fermentation guru Kirsten Shockey, published in her 2014 book “Fermented Vegetables.” Halving the recipe, I produced a half-gallon of slightly tangy, faintly gingery kraut in about a week on my kitchen counter.

What to do with four tightly packed pint jars of carrot kraut? Fortunately, my son who loves carrots has nearly as much affection for sauerkraut. We soon determined its deliciousness simply tossed with our green salads. And the 30 or so minutes of shredding all those carrots for kraut now saves me an extra five minutes — multiplied many times over — of peeling and shredding a fresh carrot at dinnertime on busy weeknights.

The kraut also is a shortcut for classic carrot salad with raisins and pineapple, or diced pear and pomegranate seeds, a combination that pleases my kids.

This cilantro carrot salad similarly could start with the kraut, skip the refrigerated resting time and cut back on a bit of lemon juice.

Vinegar preserves carrots in this tangy-spicy chutney, a bright springtime accent to meat, fish, cheeses and Indian dishes with rice.

Carrot Kraut

8 pounds carrots, peeled or unpeeled (see note) and grated

1 to 2 tablespoons peeled and grated, fresh ginger

Juice and zest of 1 lemon

1-1/2 to 2 tablespoons unrefined sea salt

In a large bowl, combine the carrots, ginger, lemon juice and zest. Add 1-1/2 tablespoons of the salt and, with your hands, massage it into veggies, then taste. It should taste slightly salty without being overwhelming. Add more salt if necessary. Carrots get briny almost immediately, and liquid will pool.

Transfer carrot mixture to a 1-gallon jar or crock, a few handfuls at a time, pressing down with your fist or a tamper to remove air pockets. You should see some brine on top of carrots when you press. When vessel is packed, leave 4 inches head space for a crock, or 2 to 3 inches for a jar.

Cover carrots with a piece of plastic wrap or other primary follower. For a crock, top carrots with a plate that fits opening of container and covers as much of surface as possible; then weight down with a sealed, water-filled jar. For a jar, use a sealed, water-filled jar or a resealable, zip-close bag as a combination follower and weight.

Set aside on a baking sheet to ferment, somewhere nearby, cool and out of direct sunlight, for 7 to 14 days. Check daily to make sure carrots are submerged, pressing down as needed to bring brine back to surface.

You can start to test kraut on day 7. You’ll know kraut is ready when it has a crisp-sour flavor and brine is thick and rich.

When it’s ready, transfer kraut to smaller jars and tamp down. Pour in any brine that’s left. Tighten lids, then store in refrigerator. This kraut will keep, refrigerated, for 1 year, but is better within 6 months.

Makes about 1 gallon.

NOTE: It’s not always necessary to peel carrots. If they’re young and sweet, just scrub them and grate. If carrots are large with darker, bitter skins, peel them before grating.

Cilantro Carrot Salad

1 scant teaspoon coriander seeds

1 small garlic clove, peeled and finely minced

3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon turmeric

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

3 tablespoons olive oil

Salt, to taste

1 pound carrots, peeled and grated (about 4 cups)

1 cup cilantro leaves, chopped

1/4 cup dry-roasted peanuts

In a small skillet, over medium high heat, toast the coriander seeds and toss frequently until fragrant. Remove skillet from heat and allow seeds to cool.

In a small bowl, whisk together the garlic, lemon juice, turmeric, red pepper flakes and olive oil.

Place cooled coriander seeds in a mortar and coarsely crush using pestle. Add coriander to dressing. Season lightly with salt, and whisk to combine.

Place carrots in a large glass bowl. Drizzle dressing over all and toss to coat carrots evenly. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or longer. Toss with the cilantro and peanuts just before serving.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Spiced Carrot Chutney

1 pound medium carrots

1 small yellow onion

2 garlic cloves, peeled

1 ounce fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped

1 cup white wine vinegar

2 tablespoons yellow mustard seeds

2 teaspoons cumin seeds

1/2 cup golden raisins

1/2 cup light brown sugar

1 teaspoon salt

Peel the carrots and trim off tops and bottoms. Grate carrots on largest holes of a box grater. Yield will be about 3 cups. Set aside.

Peel the onion. Grate it on largest holes of box grater. Set aside.

Using a blender, puree the garlic, ginger and vinegar on high for 2 minutes or until smooth.

Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan. Bring to boil over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, over medium heat for about 15 minutes, or until most liquid is reduced.

Remove chutney from heat and let it cool to room temperature. Store in an airtight container in refrigerator for up to 1 week. Serve at room temperature. Makes 2 cups.

— Recipe from “Composing the Cheese Plate: Recipes, Pairings and Platings for the Inventive Cheese Course,” by Brian Keyser and Leigh Friend (Running Press, September 2016, $22).

Roasted Carrots with Carrot Top Pesto

2 bunches small carrots (about 12)

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and black pepper, to taste

1 cup packed chopped carrot tops

1/2 cup packed parsley leaves

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 cup toasted walnuts

Grated zest of a lemon

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 garlic clove, peeled

1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste

1/2 teaspoon sugar

Heat oven to 400 degrees.

Trim greens from the carrots, leaving a half-inch or so bit of stem on top of each carrot. Spread carrots on a rimmed baking sheet, coat with the olive oil and season to taste with the salt and pepper. Roast in preheated oven until carrots are tender and golden, for 30 to 40 minutes, tossing every 10 minutes or so for even coloring.

In a food processor, combine carrot tops with the parsley, cheese, walnuts, lemon zest and juice, garlic, salt and sugar, pulsing until coarsely ground. This makes about 1 cup pesto. Serve with roasted carrots.

Makes 2 to 4 servings.