Look, I didn’t always love cooked carrots. I had some bad childhood memories of mushy, unseasoned microwaved carrots — they got the best of me. I could munch on stick after stick of the roots raw, but cooked? No thank you. It’s probably hard to believe, coming from me. I’ve dedicated my whole career to putting vegetables in the center of our plates; I should love every vegetable, every way, shouldn’t I? Well, I don’t think so.
Cooked carrots need the right spice rubs, marinades, and accompaniments to make them sing — to balance their sweet taste, complement their texture, and ultimately, bring out their best.
There are certainly many ways to cook carrots, but I prefer roasting (paired with the right seasoning) to achieve good texture and a great taste. Here are my top 10 go-to partners for roasted carrots. They foster my own love of carrots and I recommend them all day long. They are sure to step up your carrot game, and they promise never to bring you back to the old days when, you know, plain steamed carrots were just a mindless, obligatory side.
The Top 10 Partners for Carrots
1. Cumin and Coriander
Cut carrots in two-inch lengths. Combine ground cumin and coriander with olive oil to make a spice rub; toss carrots to coat them. Season well with salt and pepper. Spread out the carrots in a single layer on a baking sheet; cover tightly with foil. Roast carrots at 425°F for about 15 minutes. Uncover and continue to cook, stirring once or twice until browned and tender, about 30 minutes more.
2. Brown Butter and Nuts
Blanch carrots until crisp-tender. Meanwhile, heat an oven and baking sheet to 450°F. Toss carrots with melted brown butter and spread them out on the hot baking sheet. Roast the carrots until caramelized and tender. Toss with toasted hazelnuts (or walnuts or almonds), and finish with a sprinkle of thyme and/or parsley.
3. Honey or Maple Syrup
Play up carrots' sweetness with honey or maple syrup (then add a splash of balsamic vinegar or a squeeze of lemon juice to balance them). Toss carrots with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. (Add chopped rosemary or other herbs here if you wish.) Spread out the carrots on a baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes at 400°F, shaking the pan or stirring after 10 minutes. In a small bowl, whisk together melted butter, honey or maple syrup, and a splash of lemon juice or balsamic vinegar. Drizzle the mixture over the carrots and stir to evenly coat them. Continue to roast the carrots until tender and browned on the edges. (Soak your baking sheet.)
4. Balsamic Vinegar
A splash of balsamic vinegar or a drizzle of reduced balsamic vinegar helps to balance carrots' sweetness. Toss carrots in balsamic vinegar just before the last 10 minutes of roasting or just after they finish. Alternatively, serve roasted carrots with a drizzle of syrupy reduced balsamic vinegar.
5. Orange, Ginger, and Cilantro
Whisk together orange juice, orange zest, minced ginger (some minced garlic, too, if you wish), and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Toss the carrots in the marinade (reserve about 1/4 cup, to toss with the carrots after cooking). Spread the carrots out on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Cover tightly with foil and roast at 425°F for about 15 minutes. Uncover and continue to cook, stirring once or twice until browned and tender, about 30 minutes more.
Roast carrots until caramelized and tender, then toss warm carrots with a spoonful of tahini and a sprinkle of flaked sea salt and black sesame seeds. Finish with chopped cilantro, parsley, thyme, or oregano.
7. Goat Cheese, Feta, and Yogurt
Finish any roasted carrots with a sprinkle of goat cheese or feta, a dollop of ricotta, or a spoonful of Greek yogurt combined with a shaving of raw garlic or a slash of lemon juice.
8. Walnuts, Almonds, and Other Nuts and Seeds
Finish any roasted carrots with a sprinkle of toasted nuts or seeds for crunch and a nutty taste.
Whisk together olive oil, harissa, and a splash of lemon juice and honey. Toss the carrots in the mixture to coat them. Preheat a baking sheet at 425°F, then spread out the carrots on the sheet; roast until tender and caramelized, stirring occasionally, 35 to 40 minutes. If needed, toss with another small spoonful of harissa. Garnish with parsley or cilantro. (See #7 and #8 — also good additions.)
Roast carrots in two-inch lengths or roast small carrots whole. Pulverize garlic, ground cumin, fresh herbs of your choice, and lemon or orange zest in a food processor or mortar and pestle. Blend in olive oil, salt, and pepper (and red pepper flakes if you wish). Toss and rub the carrots in the paste-like mixture and roast until tender and browned. Toss the hot, cooked carrots in a splash of lemon juice or orange juice, or red wine or balsamic vinegar.
Serve with sliced avocado and a sprinkle of flaked sea salt over the top, and if you wish, a handful of greens or a spoonful of cheese or yogurt (see #7).