Sunday, January 11, 2009

The ABCs of Everyday French Cuisine 3: C for carottes


(Flickr photo courtesy of Maxime LeDuc)

Carrots are a reliable vegetable. They keep well, are easy to cut up and please everybody in my family. I virtually always have them on hand and, as in American cooking, they are one of the staple vegetables of everyday French cuisine.

When I was a student in Tours in the 1980s, we frequently ate at a restaurant that served plain, home-style French food. We had a food allowance and could just afford the three-course evening meal, which, if my memory serves me correctly, cost 5 francs. (Is this possible?) One of their recurring starters was carottes râpées, and my fellow students and I all felt these grated carrots with a simple vinaigrette were somehow extraordinary.

I suppose I have become blasé, but plain grated carrots with vinaigrette rather bore me now. I usually perk up the salad with another fruit or vegetable, especially apples and/or zucchini. Sometimes I add a lot of herbs, especially coriander when I have it, or make some fancy sauce with yogurt or orange juice. I'm not sure how French all of this is, but variety is the spice of cooking life. And speaking of spices, cumin is pretty delicious with grated carrots.

One supermarket item that saddens me is ready-made carottes râpées. They just seem like a very depressing thing to buy:


In France, raw carrots are generally eaten in this grated form. When I serve carrot sticks with a dip, whether to my family or friends, the former wolf them down and the latter consider the presentation original and exotic.

Carrots enter into many other French recipes, of course. They are a frequent ingredient in traditional French blended soup, and carottes Vichy, originally made with Vichy mineral water, are a well-known French classic.

Personally, I often toss carrots in with a roasted chicken, include them in about every mixed vegetable dish I make, and occasionally concoct something elegant from them, such as this carrot flan:


However, unlike many of my American expat friends, I have never attempted to make a carrot cake in my French kitchen. But I think if I wanted to get comments about "original" and "exotic" cooking, that would definitely beat carrot sticks!

12 comments:

Loulou said...

I agree that those carottes râpées sold in the store are quite sad. I can't imagine buying them! I mean, how long does it take to peel and grate some carrots?
Love the idea of the carrot flan. I'll have to look up a recipe.

Mimi from French Kitchen said...

I love any form of carrots. But yes, grating them at home is easy!

Le laquet said...

I can understand buying ready prepared carottes râpées if you're on a camping holiday in a tiny dusty campsite with ants the size of camels, in the hills south of Lézignan-Corbières with no grater in the cooking kit. You can too, can't you??

I love carrots - roasted with or without cumin, steamed until they're al dente, to dip into houmous, in home made (less mayo) coleslaw and in carrot cake - yum! One of my favourites.

Betty C. said...

Le laquet -- of course there are exceptions to every rule! Although I might prefer to just go for a washed tomato or apple....

spacedlaw said...

J'adore les carottes!
Fun carrot recipe here.
My favourite carrot recipe, as pasta sauce or vegetable.

Betty C. said...

Interesting, spaced -- I somehow never think of pasta as going with carrots, so I'll have to give that a try. I don't think I have any vodka around, though, and probably never will!

spacedlaw said...

Don't you worry. It goes very well without vodka.
I had some of those carrots for dinner on buttered bread rolls, it was heavenly.

A World in a PAN said...

I still feel that plain grated carrots can be deivine - provided you have the right fresh carrots, which you must have where you live. So I guess maybe you ate too much of them in Tours!
As to my beans with pork, they could be a simpler and downplayed interpretation of a true Toulouse Cassoulet!

Betty C. said...

PAN, of course anything's still good with good basic ingredients and a nice vinaigrette! I guess I just always enjoy perking things up... and I have been eating the basics for almost 19 years now!

Cassoulet Cafe said...

I hate carrot cake. Ew, blech. But love carrots with dip :)

Betty C. said...

Cassoulet -- A lot of French people are turned off by the idea of carrot cake. But you are American, aren't you? I've never heard of any American not liking it, but everyone has their own tastes of course! Maybe it just means you're French at heart...

Elisabeth said...

I feel so-so about carrots, which I never ever prepare as a vegetable (I do not really like cooked carrots). I make, however, a kick-ass curried carrot soup which I absolutely love. And I have very fond memory of eating carottes râpées as a child - I would never tire of them.

I got for Christmas an electric grater that will grate carrots - my boyfriend has to bring it to me from Indianapolis, so I don't have it at home yet, but I will definitely make carottes râpées once it gets here!