The ongoing trend in plant-forward foods has led to the rediscovery and reuse of a number of underutilized vegetables, like cauliflower, which has been roasted, grilled and made into pizza crust; and celery, which has been braised, fried and turned into granita. Carrots, which quickly became a culinary focal point at the outset of the plant-forward trend, have remained a rich source of inspiration. Their availability, versatility and consumer acceptance has kept them firmly in the forefront of veg-oriented menu innovation.
At the center and on the side. Anyone who thinks that carrots don’t belong in the center of the plate hasn’t seen the dramatic Carrot Steak at Detroit’s Lady of the House, one of the new breed of casual restaurants reviving that city’s dining scene. Beautifully simple, the “steak” is sauced with both Hollandaise and pesto. Dirt Candy in New York City has won raves for its creative, vegetable-based cuisine; the Carrot Slider there features a double dose of carrots, since it’s served on a carrot bun. At meat-centric Cockscomb in San Francisco, Roasted Carrots and Almond Milk Ricotta appears on the entrée list among cured Sardinian tuna heart and fried tripe. Finished with carrot harissa and almonds, the dish is an elegant option for non-meat lovers.
Carrots are also being reconsidered as contemporary side-dish options. Chicago’s The Gage, which touts American cuisine with global influences, features roasted honey-turmeric carrots with sumac, yogurt and cilantro. Nearby and newly-opened, Pacific Standard Time promotes the “relaxed energy of California cooking” with dishes like wood-roasted baby carrots with onion-tahini purée and skhug, an herb-and-chile condiment from the Middle East. In Columbus, Ohio, three-unit Sweet Carrot promises made-from-scratch comfort foods and delivers with carrot-tomato soup with a mac-and-cheese drizzle that is accompanied by toasted-and-buttered sweet roll slices.
Ethnic applications. As its name indicates, A Mano in Atlanta makes its pasta by hand, and the restaurant garnered positive reviews for its recent carrot ravioli, in which the homemade pasta was stuffed with a carrot-ricotta mixture, cooked in brown butter and topped with Parmesan cheese. It was plated with eye-catching swirls of spiralized carrots.
The California-based Lazy Dog Restaurant & Bar chain grabbed attention with Roasted Street Carrots, a limited-time special that featured organic, rainbow heirloom carrots in a flavor treatment that reflected its Mexican street-corn inspiration: queso blanco, cilantro-lime crema and Tajín, a fiery, chile-based condiment popular in Mexico.
Since a high percentage of student diners identify as vegetarian, carrots have received the royal treatment on college campuses. At the University of Michigan, for example, a plant-based pop-up dinner featured an unexpected and unconventional Carrot Osso Bucco served with puréed celery root and gremolata. Compass Group took inspiration from another part of the globe with BBQ Carrot Tostadas that topped corn tortillas with the titular carrots as well as avocado and pineapple-zucchini salsa, crowned with carrot tops, scallions and cilantro.
Salads simple and sophisticated. Operators in the Bay area truly have embraced the carrot. In San Francisco, SPQR crafts a carrot and lentil salad with Medjool dates and vadouvan curry crema, while the carrot salad with yogurt and coriander at Rich Table, also in San Francisco, is a beautiful composition of very thinly sliced ribbons of carrot garnished with walnuts, radishes and scallions. Popular Sonoma brasserie The Girl & The Fig rotates salads to take advantage of the freshest produce available. In late spring, this meant a seasonal carrot salad in which cool greens were topped with pickled carrots and carrot vinaigrette, along with crispy chickpeas for crunch.
Better beverages. The natural sweetness of carrots combined with their nutritional benefits makes them a go-to ingredient in better-for-you quaffs. Smoothie King’s Wellness Blends include Carrot-Kale Dream with orange and apple juices and vanilla protein, while the Orange-Ginger Glow at competitor Tropical Smoothie Cafe marries carrot with mango, fresh ginger, green apple, pineapple and orange juice. Casual dining Eureka! Restaurant Group in California has stepped up its mocktail game with the made-fresh-daily TLC Nectar that blends trendy turmeric with lemon and carrots.
Looking ahead, watch for carrots to go beyond standards like carrot cake on dessert menus. Malai, an ice cream shop based in Brooklyn, N.Y., whose menu reflects its owner’s Indian heritage, sells Carrot Halwa Ice Cream. Adapted from a popular Northern Indian pudding, the confection includes carrots cooked in clarified butter with a bit of cardamom.
Nancy Kruse, President of the Kruse Company, is a menu trends analyst based in Atlanta. As one of Linked In’s Top 100 Influencers in the US, she blogs regularly on food-related subjects on the Linked In website.