My dad was big on juicing, and here I refer to the ’70s era, when only a few indulged in such uppity pastimes.
One fine day he picked up a juicer, and suddenly orange juice, apple juice and, most importantly, carrot juice became a daily breakfast fare. I loved the little talks I got while drinking the juice, especially carrot juice. “Beta, for sure your eyesight will remain 20/20 forever if you drink a glass of carrot juice every day.” Rightly so, I don’t need glasses at this ripe old age a little south of 50.
And then there was my school friend Ayla, whose older sister developed an orange hue to her skin tone because she ate a bucket load of carrots while on a ‘teen years-onset-induced diet’. Hence the carrot anecdotes I have are many, but for now I’ll introduce you to some interesting history notes about the journey of the carrot.
Borrowing from the article Food Stories: Gajar Ka Halwa, “Carrots were indigenous to Afghanistan for almost 5,000 years. They came in colours such as red, yellow, black and white, but not orange, until the 17th century when the horticulturalists in the Netherlands decided to honour William of Orange, from the House of Orange, by creating an orange carrot.
Though many believe that it was a coincidence, and the orange colour was a mutation of the red and yellow carrot and had no significant link to the Royal House of Orange, this new orange carrot was sweeter, prettier and of a non-sticky variety, making it popular amongst the cooks of the world. Legend has it that the Sikhs from Punjab introduced it to the house of Mughals.”
The cooks in the subcontinent liked the new imported carrot and the sweetness that came with it. It was an era when new cuisines were being developed by chefs and connoisseurs and the new carrot proved to be something to be experimented with to make halwa, with sugar, milk and butter, sans the flour and nuts.
Punjab apparently took an instant liking to it, and began to develop innovative new recipes, sweet and savoury. It was a vegetable that was harvested in abundance in winters and the cooks came up with a hot delicious dessert best served any time of the day, before or after a meal, or as a side with chai or doodh pati. Gajar ka halwa was an instant hit all over the Indian subcontinent.
Needless to say, I’m a big fan of carrots, may it be sweet or savoury, or a little tangy, like the carrot achar. Hence, I share with you my three favourite carrot recipes, from my kitchen to yours.
GAJAR, MATAR, AALO SABZI
2 cups chopped potatoes
2 cups chopped carrots
1 cup frozen or fresh peas
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 onion, chopped
1 tomato, chopped
1 green chilli, finely chopped
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
½ teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon amchoor powder
Salt to taste
4 to 5 tablespoons oil (or as desired)
Garnish with chopped coriander, lemon wedges and green chillies
Heat oil, add cumin, curry leaves, mustard seeds, turmeric, onions, fry for a few minutes and toss in the vegetables. Cover and cook for 15 to 20 minutes on medium heat, stirring and spraying with water, periodically, once vegetables are tender, add all the masalas, cook for a few minutes, garnish and serve.
GAJAR KA HALWA
1 kg carrots (orange)
1 ½ to 2 litres of milk
½ pint Half-and-Half
1/3 pint heavy whipping cream
1 ¾ cups sugar
2 to 3 tablespoons butter (unsalted)
¼ cup oil
8 to 10 cardamoms
1 tablespoon raisins
2 tablespoons blanched and chopped almonds
Lightly peel and grate carrots and set aside. Bring milk to boil and add the carrots, let the milk and carrot mixture come to a boil then add half-and-half and sugar, stirring constantly.
Keep stirring until the mixture comes to boil, reducing heat to medium. Once the milk evaporates (should take one-and-a-half to two hours) add heavy cream, stirring constantly. Once cream evaporates, add butter, oil and cardamoms stirring constantly, keeping the flame medium to high.
Keep stirring until oil separates, and the colour is a rich beautiful deep orange. Garnish with raisins and almonds and serve. Serves 10-12.
2 pounds carrots, chopped
4 or more cups water
1 can condensed milk, or malai with sugar (I prefer it with condensed milk)
Dash of nutmeg/cinnamon or green cardamom
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon fresh ginger
Blend carrots in a blender, adding water; sieve through mulmul (muslin) cloth. Squeeze extracting all juice, discard the pulp and pour the juice into the blender, adding all ingredients. Puree and serve hot or chilled.
Originally published in Dawn, EOS, December 3, 2017