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Have you heard that carrots are worth the other ‘karat’ (as in gold!)? This is in terms of the nutritional value in them! Carrots are the best known and the best loved root vegetables. Be they red, orange, reddish-orange, white or purple, eating carrots helps one to see better in the dark because of their vitamin content. Carrots have different flavours depending on the way they are cooked. Carrots when steamed are tender and soft, in salads sweet and crunchy, in casseroles savoury, in soups they are mild thickening agents and in gajar halwa they are the ultimate in sweetness!

Carrots contain large amount of carotene and vitamin A, along with useful amounts of vitamins B3, C and E. when eaten raw they provide good quantities of potassium, calcium, iron and zinc but these are partly destroyed when carrots are cooked. Carrots help to overcome night blindness as they contain vitamin A which forms retinal that helps to overcome night blindness. The best role that this winter vegetable can play? Chomp on one as it is an excellent snack! Carrot is an all rounder and can be a part of all the meals throughout the day! Start with a smoothie or juice. Take a salad or pulao for lunch, or then have a pickle, finish with soup for dinner and dessert.

How to choose, store and handle carrots

•While buying carrots one should try to find the young pencil-thin carrots that still have their feathery tops attached. Older carrots should be firm and unblemished. Carrots should not be stored for too long but can be kept for some days in a cool place or in the refrigerator.

•Preparing carrots depends on their age. The nutrients in the carrots lie just below their skin. So if the carrots are young, they should be just scrubbed. Medium sized carrots need to be scraped with knife and large carrots need to be either peeled or scraped. Carrots can be cooked or eaten raw. They can be also eaten raw by cutting them into juliennes and tossing them in a dressing. Carrots can be cooked in any way. 

Coloured and nutritious

Orange carrots contain beta carotene, with some alpha-carotene, both of which are orange pigments. These type of carrots are high in Vitamin A that is essential for the well-being of healthy eyes.

Yellow carrots contain xanthophylls and lutene, pigments similar to beta carotene, which help develop healthy eyes and may prevent lung and other cancers and reduce the risk of hardening of the arteries.

Red carrots contain lycopene, (another form of carotene) a pigment also found in tomatoes and watermelon. It helps to reduce risk of macular degeneration, serum lipid oxidation and also helps prevent to heart disease and a wide variety of cancers including prostate cancer.

White carrots lack pigment, but may contain other health-promoting substances called phytochemicals, natural bioactive compounds found in plant foods that work with nutrients and dietary fibre to protect against disease.

Purple carrots have even more beta carotene than their orange cousins. These types of carrots are orange from inside. The anthocyanin pigment in it acts as a powerful antioxidant.

Black carrots also contain anthocyanin like the purple carrots, and belong to flavonoid family. Flavonoids are currently under investigation as anticancer compounds and free radical scavengers in living systems, as well as inhibitors of LDL (the bad) cholesterol.

Cooking with carrots

Smoothie is a quick blend of carrots, tomatoes and celery in the blender with a salt, pepper and lemon juice. If you like it, add crushed ice. Make small starters with carrot: Sauté some onions, ginger and garlic. Add a few chopped button mushrooms, green chillies, salt and lemon juice. Now sauté some neatly cut carrot roundels. Take some paneer cut into triangles. Place carrot roundels in a plate. Over each carrot roundel spread a layer of the mushroom mixture and top it with a paneer triangle. Top them up with more green chillies or jalapenos and serve immediately.

Gajrela, as gajar halwa is nicknamed in the northern states, is the must dessert in winter. Also the preserve gajar ka murabba, gajar kanji and gajar gobhi shalgam achar. Make use of gajar halwa in fusion desserts like a gajar halwa and sponge sizzler: sponge cake soaked in orange juice and sandwiched with gajar halwa and sizzled with rabdi. Or remove some of the sugar content of the halwa by replacing it with chopped dates. Also try the gajar barfi and gajar ki kheer but the fact remains that gajar halwa, made the traditional way with khoya and nuts, is one of the most popular Indian desserts.

Coming to other creations with carrots. Gajar matar ki sabzi. Gajar matar beans ka pulao. So whether it is soup or a salad or a hot and soft porridge of dalia (broken wheat) boiled with carrots and peas and topped with butter, carrots prove their versatility again and again. How about going through this expansive presentation of carrots in all their sweet and savoury glory! 

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