When you need a quick, easy side dish for a weeknight meal or holiday gathering, reach for carrots. Glazing carrots with hints of spice and sweetness enhances their natural sugar. I have used granulated sugar, brown sugar and honey in this recipe but settled on maple syrup, ideally spiked with a smoked salt.
If you use young, slender carrots with tender skins, you can skip the chopping and peeling and shorten your prep time. Just scrub the carrots clean and lop off the ends before adding them to the pan. Carrots that are thicker than your thumb will cook better when cut into similarly sized sticks, and older ones with thick or craggy skins that retain dirt are best peeled.
I recommend choosing one carrot type for this recipe to show off its brilliance. Cooked this way, slender Tendersweet carrots turn vibrantly orange and stubby Red-Cored Chantenays quartered lengthwise become vermilion. Black Nebula carrots remain deep purple when fully cooked but will leach their color into the water, dulling other varieties.
Simultaneously cooking and glazing speeds up the preparation but requires a little attention to avoid mushy carrots. Keep the carrots similar in thickness and barely cover them with water to produce fork-tender results by the time they’re caramelized. Err on the side of less liquid and add a splash or two of hot water if needed, rather than letting the carrots float in the pan.
The dabs of syrup and spice will intensify as the glaze cooks down and adheres to the softening carrots. To boost the caramelized flavor, choose an all-metal pan and slide it under the oven’s broiler at the end of the cooking time for a minute or so, watching closely to avoid burning the sugar.
If your carrots still have tops, you can chop them as a garnish or blend them with other fresh herbs into a quick pesto or herb salsa. On their own, carrot tops taste a lot like parsley.
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1-1/2 pounds carrots, peeled as needed and cut into sticks if large
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
Pinch of ground cumin
Smoked or regular sea salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Chopped carrot tops or parsley for garnish (optional)
In a large cast-iron skillet or frying pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the carrots and maple syrup, stirring to combine. Stir in the ginger, cumin, salt and pepper while cooking for one to two minutes, until the ginger is fragrant.
Add water to just cover the carrots. Raise the heat to high, cover the pan and cook for three to five minutes, until the water boils and the carrots brighten in color. Uncover the pan and reduce the heat to medium-high. Continue cooking for seven to 10 minutes, until the water evaporates and the carrots start to caramelize and give slightly when pierced with a fork. Serve immediately, garnished with chopped carrot tops or parsley if desired.
Julie Laing is a Bigfork-based cookbook author and food blogger at TwiceAsTasty.com.
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