Carrots, a very good thing

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are all trying to stay as healthy as possible.  We are told to drink lots of water, get plenty of rest, exercise, and hopefully, find a dose of sunshine. In times of self-isolation, that can be a daily challenge.

Keeping our immune systems healthy is important, too. One way we can do that to is to eat more colorful vegetables, those that are especially rich in vitamins and minerals.  Sweet, bright carrots fall into that category. Of all vegetables, they are the highest in Vitamin A and beta carotene—known to boost the immune system.Carrots store incredibly well and are nearly indestructible. If the fridge is getting empty, chances are there are still carrots. These days, that is a very good thing.  Here’s a carrot dish that does not deserve last choice.

Carrot Coriander Soup

Carrot Coriander Soup evolved from my desire for something different than the usual ginger-carrot affinity; I wanted more complexity. Coriander, a longtime favorite was the obvious choice, and this soup remains a reliable player in my repertoire.

There’s not much to it, beyond a few vegetables. Once cooked, the carrots are pureed with an immersion blender until smooth, and it is magically transformed. This soup is so good, I can never decide which way I prefer it most, hot or cold?  That’s another bonus.

Carrot Coriander Soup

Ingredients
2 Tbsp butter
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, mash & mince
2 tsp ground coriander
½ tsp allspice
pinch cayenne
½ tsp salt
2 tsp fresh ginger, peel and grate
1½ lbs carrots (5 medium), peel, cut in half lengthwise and chop
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
cilantro, mint or chopped green onion

Instructions

  1. In a soup pot over medium heat, heat the butter, add the onion and garlic and sauté until soft. Stir in the coriander through the ginger and cook for 1 minute to release flavors. Add carrots tossing for a minute to combine.
  2. Pour in stock, bring to a boil. Cover and simmer 20-30 minutes, until the carrots are tender.
  3. Using an immersion blender,  puree the carrot mixture until smooth.  Reheat the soup and simmer 5-10 minutes; if too thick, thin with a small amount of water. Adjust seasoning.  Serve hot or well chilled with a dollop of yogurt, garnish with fresh herbs.  Serves 3-4.

Optional  Prior to serving, combine ½ cup plain yogurt with ¼ cup hot soup to temper. Stir yogurt into soup but do not boil.

Delicious but not Devastating

Incorporating vegetables into desserts is an appealing way to slip more valuable nutrients into our daily food intake. Carrot and zucchini cakes are solutions, likely loaded with exorbitant amounts of oil and smeared with heavy-duty cream cheese toppings. Any natural benefits have been all but cancelled out.

Delicious but not devastating, that’s my goal. Trying to elevate the plight of vegetable desserts, here’s my latest take on zucchini cake. First, I’ve learned that steaming, rather than conventional baking, can introduce moisture and lower the need for massive doses of oil.

I zeroed in on two other ingredients of interest: chocolate and nuts.  I like the chocolate and zucchini combination—but chocolate easily overwhelms, and I’m not looking for another chocolate cake (probably one of few to so admit). Nuts add deep taste, complexity, and crunch. Then, it made perfect sense: why not keep it simple and go with cacao nibs?  They have all that, and more.

Roasted Cacao Nibs

There is a difference between regular chocolate and nibs. Typical chocolate bars come from cacao seeds, which are fermented, ground, and further processed. Cacao nibs are crumbled pieces from the exterior cacao bean shell, with a bitter chocolate punch and nutty texture. Nibs are rich in flavonoid antioxidants, minerals, and more; they contribute plenty of fiber—but nothing extreme as gnawing on wood.

I’ve included another duo that works well together: coriander and orange. Instead of the usual grated zest, I’ve gone with tiny nibs of minced orange peel (white removed) for a super-charged citrus flavor that’s offset by the exotic perfume of coriander. The backdrop for all of this comes from a huge surplus of green summer squash, rather than zucchini.

Zucchini Cake with Cacao & Orange Nibs

The cake steams in 35 minutes—literally from the inside out—it cooks thoroughly, thanks to the center hole in the bundt pan. You would never guess it had been steamed; once turned out of the pan and cooled, it appears browned and perfectly baked. The cake’s surprisingly light texture is speckled with flavorful flecks from the orange, green squash, and chocolate brown cacao nibs. It’s quite a party!


Update! The pressurized steaming process also softens the cacao nibs. As the cake rests, the nibs seem to bloom (stored in the fridge). Their nubby texture relaxes, and more complex chocolate qualities unfold.  Fascinating… and highly delicious.


Steamed Zucchini Cake with Cacao and Orange Nibs

Ingredients
1½ cups AP flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp each baking soda and salt
1 tsp coriander
2 eggs
⅓ cup vegetable oil
½ cup each granulated sugar and brown sugar
2 Tbsp plain yogurt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1½ cups grated zucchini or summer squash, skin on
2 tsp orange peel, white removed, sliver and chop well
⅓ cup roasted cacao nibs

Instructions

  1. Thinly coat 8” bundt pan with Baker’s or nonstick spray.
  2. Prepare Instant Pot or other multicooker: fill with 1½ cup water and insert trivet. Cut aluminum foil cover for pan and prepare sling for pan.
  3. Combine flour through spices together and set aside.
  4. In mixing bowl whisk eggs, then beat in the oil. Whisk in the sugar to fully combine, and then stir in the yogurt and vanilla. Add the zucchini.  Stir in the dry ingredients just to incorporate and finally add the cacao and orange nibs. Scrape batter into the bundt pan and level the surface.
  5. Begin heating multicooker, set to Sauté More. Add 1 ½ cup water and place the trivet in pot.
  6. Cover filled bundt pan with foil. Fold the other length of foil into a long sling. Wrap it under the pan, up the sides, over the top, and lower it into the pot.
  7. Seal pot with lid, reset to Hi Pressure for 35 minutes. When complete, turn off unit, disconnect and let rest undisturbed for 10 minutes. Slowly release remaining pressure and open the lid. Using the foil sling, carefully lift pan out of pot and onto a rack. Remove foil and cool for 10 minutes. With thin knife, loosen any edges adhering to pan and turn cake out to cool onto rack.  Makes 1 cake, serves 10.