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Purple Carrots

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Every week we get Down & Dirty, in which we break down our favorite unique seasonal fruits, vegetables, and more.

Today: Carrots of a different color, plus how to use them, where to find them -- and how to store them once you do.

Carrots are an underrated bunch. In all likelihood, there's a mostly full package of them languishing in the crisper drawer of your fridge right now. We get it: you bought a bagful for a mirepoix and then neglected the rest, so they were left to wither away.

That wouldn’t have happened if they were purple. 

Purple carrots not only add a splash of color to your plate, they also provide a healthy dose of anthocyanins, color pigments that boast powerful antioxidant compounds (like you find in blueberries). Carrots, even vibrantly colored ones, won’t really help you see in the dark, but we bet you'll get starry-eyed over varieties like cosmic purple and purple sun. Purple sun carrots are deep purple from skin to core; cosmic purple carrots have purple skin too, but have an intense orange or yellow core visible when you cut into them. 

What to Do With a Purple Carrot
To maximize their striking hues, enjoy them raw. If you take a cue from Amanda’s kids’ lunch, they’ll be the star of your crudité platter -- or let them shine in a salad. Try juicing the purple suns (perhaps adding the juice to a cocktail?) or roasting the cosmic purples. Be warned: boiling varieties like the cosmic purple will reduce their purple exterior, and putting purple sun carrots in a soup or a cake could produce a dish in an unappetizing shade of grey.

Carrots are members of the parsley family (it’s a large family, but other well-known siblings include celery, coriander, dill, and parsnips), so it’s no surprise that carrot tops have a fresh, earthy, and mildly bitter flavor. Yes, there is some debate over whether or not they are edible, but food science writer Harold McGee says they are okay. (And that's enough for us.) If you’re willing to risk it, there’s no need to relegate the lush bushy greens to the stock pot. Try them in pesto or gremolata, as a garnish, or as the main component of an Asian-inspired salad.

Where to Get Them 
If you're inspired by color, keep your eye out for other celestial beauties like lunar white, atomic red, and solar yellow carrots (or pick up a pack of seeds and grow your own!). Colorful carrots can sometimes be found in stores, but your best bet will be to visit a nearby farmers market and start asking farmers what varieties they grow.

What to Look For
For the tastiest carrots, choose firm, richly colored ones with their green leafy tops still attached. Pass on any carrot that’s dully colored, limp, or rubbery. You’ll also want to avoid carrots with sad, wilty leaves or green shoulders (the top part of the carrot that sticks out of the ground when it’s growing), as the latter could be a sign that the carrot got a “sunburn,” and the flavor could be affected. (However, there are heirloom varieties of carrots with green shoulders, so when in doubt, talk to your farmer.)

How to Store and Prep Them
Your vibrant beauties will probably be consumed quickly, but just like other carrots, they store well in the refrigerator. You'll want to store the roots and the greens separately, so the greens don’t steal the moisture from the root. Cut the tops off of the carrots, and store them as you would any other green. The root part of your carrots can easily last for weeks kept in a plastic bag in the crisper drawer, but make sure to wait to wash the carrots until you’re going to use them, as excess moisture in the bag can make them spoil faster.

Fresh young carrots aren’t likely to have bitter skin, so leave the peeler in the drawer and just give them a good scrub to get the dirt off before cooking. This is especially true with varieties like the cosmic purple, since peeling them would remove their unique purple skin, and you’d be left with a regular, run-of-the-mill orange carrot. (And who wants that, when you can have its wilder, crazy cousin?)

How will you use colorful carrots this week? 

Tags: down and dirty, diagrams, infographics, carrots, purple carrots, cosmic purple carrots, purple sun carrots, lunar white carrots, atomic red carrots, solar yellow carrots, lindsay-jean hard, special diets

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