If you grew up eating mushy cooked carrots from a school cafeteria or overworked mom, you’ll probably be tempted to skip over this recipe. I urge you to give it a chance. Carrots cooked in an open pan and glazed by a little butter and sugar remain bright and crisp-tender, like properly cooked pasta or Grilled Asparagus, with just a hint of bonus sweetness. Try it once, and you’ll never boil carrots again.
Although the recipe works with any carrots—store bought or homegrown, baby carrots in May or storage carrots in January—it shines in August. The carrots I pull in late summer are finger thick, crunchy, and naturally sweet. Best of all, they come with gorgeous green, feathery tops that can be mixed into a tasty, herb-heavy salsa. If you aren’t growing your own carrots, ask your farmer to leave the tops intact and use them the day you pick them up at the market or receive your CSA share.
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Cut off the carrot tops, setting them aside for another recipe (see below). Scrub the carrots, peeling and cutting them into sticks if overly dirty and large. In a large cast-iron skillet or frying pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the carrots and spices; cook, stirring, for 1–2 minutes, until the ginger is fragrant. Add just enough water to cover the carrots. Raise the heat to high, cover the pan, and cook for about 5 minutes, until the water boils and the carrots turn bright orange. Uncover the pan and reduce the heat to medium-high. Continue to cook the carrots for 7–10 minutes, until the water evaporates and the carrots start to caramelize; they should give just slightly when pierced with a fork. Serve immediately, garnished with Carrot-Top and Herb Salsa or chopped parsley. Serves 4.
Tips & Tricks
- You can use carrots of any size for this dish; small ones can be cooked whole, but roots thicker than your thumb are better cut into sticks. Freshly harvested carrots will be the tastiest and have the most edible tops.
- You should be able to caramelize the carrots entirely on the stovetop, but if you choose an all-metal pan, you can stick them under the broiler at the end of the cooking time for a minute or so to get a little bonus char.
- Err on the side of adding too little water; you can always pour in a bit of hot water if the original dousing evaporates too quickly. Too much water will make the carrots mushy, and pouring off excess water from the hot pan can lead to a mess or a burn.
- Turnips, parsnips, rutabagas, and onions can all be cooked using this method, and the glaze is a simpler version of the one I create for stir-fry. For a shift in flavor, swap the white sugar for another sweetener or add a pinch of ground cinnamon or cumin.
Twice as Tasty
As I mentioned last week, my locally sourced, no-waste cooking goal is to use every part of a fruit or vegetable, from leafy top to root tip. The root part comes naturally with freshly harvested organic carrots: a little scrubbing and you can start gnawing from the thinnest rootlet to the wide crown like Bugs Bunny. But even though the leafy green tops are pretty, I typically tossed them into the compost or over the fence to the cows.
If you nibble at the carrot greens, you’ll find they taste a bit like carrot and a bit like parsley, carrot’s cousin in the Umbelliferae family. They’re packed with nutrients; potassium can make older tops in particular bitter, so sample them first. Even though the green fronds have some of the nitrates and alkaloids found in nightshades like eggplant and potatoes, you’d probably have to eat a laundry basket’s worth to notice an effect. When a couple of handfuls of the sweetest carrot tops are mixed with herbs in a chimichurri-style salsa, they make the perfect garnish for glazed carrots.
Carrot-Top and Herb Salsa
1/2 cup mint leaves
1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves
1 onion top or 2 scallions
1/4 cup Pickled Nasturtium Seeds or capers, rinsed and drained
juice and zest from 1/2 lemon
1/4 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon Home-Smoked Chili Paste or sriracha
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Cut the feathery ends from the carrot tops, measuring out about 1 cup. Chop or mince the carrot greens, parsley, and mint, adding them to a small bowl. Chop the onion and capers, mixing them with the herbs. Stir in the remaining ingredients, whisking in the olive oil with a fork until it has emulsified. Adjust the flavorings to taste. Toss 1/2 cup of the salsa with Glazed Carrots, serving the extra on the side. Makes about 1-1/4 cups.
Tips & Tricks
- This recipe works best with fresh carrot tops, which means you likely grew the carrots yourself or bought them freshly harvested from a local farm. If your carrot tops have wilted, leave them out and double down on the parsley and mint.
- You can chop the ingredients as finely or coarsely as you like. For the smoothness of pesto, prepare the mixture in a food processor, stirring in the olive oil by hand as you would for salad dressing.
- The all-green salsa works well tossed with fresh vegetables, but you can turn it into a chip dipper by adding a couple of pureed tomatoes, boosting or reducing the heat from the chili sauce, and splashing in a bit of tequila as you would for Spiked Guacamole.
- For a full meal, treat the salsa like Chermoula and toss it with grilled shrimp, fish, or other meat. Serve it and the carrots over couscous or quinoa.
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Tried & True
These tools and supplies may help you make the recipes in this post:
- I usually glaze vegetables in one of the lidless cast-iron skillets I inherited from my grandmother. If you’re investing in new cast iron, you may be able to get a lid to fit it.
- I recommend a removable silicone handle for your cast iron; you can still shove the pan in the oven, but you won’t burn yourself picking it up. I use this style because I can slide it on any pan, but one with a tapered shape will have a tighter fit.
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