Carrots are a family favorite around the world – even the fussiest eaters and vegetable-phobes will tuck into their carrots at dinner time!
But sometimes you end up with a bunch of carrots which are huge, tough, and virtually inedible. But don’t give up on them – we can turn them into a tasty carrot again!
So, what is the simplest way to soften carrots? You can soften carrots in one of three ways: by blanching, in the microwave, or by quick pickling. Softening carrots by blanching quickly in hot water is the best way to retain the fresh raw flavor of your carrots.
If you’ve come across carrots in your veg box or salad draw which are just too tough to eat, read on to find out everything you need to know about softening carrots!
Why Do You Need To Soften Carrots?
Carrots are one of the most popular vegetables around the world. Easy to store and cook, they’re a regular item on most of our shopping lists. But why do you need to soften carrots?
Well, the thing is, one carrot isn’t always the same as the next! Carrots can vary hugely in size, shape, thickness, and age, and these factors all affect the firmness of the carrot.
Younger carrots are normally smaller and thinner in size – these are the deliciously sweet baby carrots we normally eat in salads and for lunchbox snacks.
These dinky little carrots can normally be eaten without softening them first. It is their sweet juicy crunch that makes them such delicious treats.
And then we have the big gnarly carrots – those huge ones which, if eaten raw, would taste fibrous, chewy, and tough. These carrots have been left longer to grow in the ground and will taste less sweet than their younger counterparts.
Normally, these types of carrots are sliced or diced, then boiled, steamed, or roasted until they are cooked through and tender. These are the carrots we would use for soups, stews, pot roasts, and casseroles.
But what if you want to use these carrots for something else? This is where softening comes in!
The aim of softening a carrot is to alter the texture without changing the flavor. When softened, you should be able to run a knife through them easily, but they should still taste like a raw carrot.
When softened in this way, your hard crunchy carrot will be transformed – the texture will be softer but still firm, and it will taste sweet and full of flavor.
Softened carrots can be used in a variety of ways:
- Stir-fries – softened will cook in just a couple of minutes in a wok.
- Salads – softened carrots work particularly well in rice salads.
- Quick-cook casseroles – short of time after work? Throw together a tasty one-pot dinner in no time with some softened carrots.
How To Prepare Carrots For Softening
No matter what method you use to soften your carrots, the preparation technique is always the same:
- Gently brush any residual dirt from the outside of the carrots.
- Remove the tops and roots from the carrots.
- Wash the carrots in cool tap water (using warm water here will start to soften the carrots).
- You may wish to peel the carrots at this point – this is entirely down to personal preference! Peeling is not necessary but can make an old carrot look more appetizing.
- Now, do we chop the carrots or not?!
Whether to chop your carrots before softening them depends on how tough your carrots are, and also what you plan to do with them after softening.
Larger and tougher carrots may benefit from being chopped into large chunks to aid the softening process. Cutting the carrots up too small can make it difficult to soften them without going too far and accidentally cooking them.
If your carrots are very oversized they may have a woody core, which no amount of cooking will soften. Slice these carrots into long strips lengthways and carefully trim out the inner core.
Smaller carrots can be left whole, or cut into small enough pieces to fit into your pan or container.
1. Softening Carrots By Blanching
We love this method of softening carrots – blanching will soften even the hardest carrot without changing the flavor.
Blanching involves scalding the carrots in boiling water for a very short period of time. The carrots are then removed and placed in icy-cold water immediately to halt the cooking process.
This cooling down process is very important and ensures that the carrots are softened but not cooked. They will still taste like raw carrots but can be sliced easily with a knife.
To soften carrots by blanching you will need the following:
- A large pan of boiling water
- A colander or strainer
- A sink or large bowl filled with ice-cold water
- Gloves or tongs to handle the hot pans and carrots
- Prepare the carrots as described above.
- Bring the large pan of water to a boil on the stove.
- Place the carrots into the pan of boiling water. If you have a large number of carrots to blanch it is best to split them into smaller portions.
- Keep the carrots in the water for 3-5 minutes, depending on the size of the carrots. Small or chopped carrots will take less time, large and whole carrots will take longer.
- You now need to transfer the carrots from the boiling water to the icy water as quickly as possible. There are two ways to achieve this: Drain the carrots in a colander and tip into the icy water, or lift the carrots using tongs from the boiling water to the icy water. If you don’t have icy cold water, you can use cool water but will need to change the water frequently as it warms up.
- After 5 minutes the carrots should be completely cold. Remove the carrots from the water and place them in the colander to drain.
- Once dry, your carrots can be sliced, chopped, julienned – whatever your preferred method is!
Top tip – this blanching method also works well if you want to freeze carrots!
2. Softening Carrots In The Microwave
Microwaving carrots is a quick and easy way to soften them without altering the flavor too much. This method also requires much less equipment and effort than blanching – no pans of boiling and icy water needed here!
However, it can be difficult to judge how long to microwave the carrots for, and it is a fine line between softening and cooking!
- Place the prepared carrots in a container suitable for the microwave.
- Add two tablespoons of water to the container and cover with a lid or plastic wrap.
- Microwave on full power for three minutes.
- Check the texture of the carrots with a knife – you should be able to slice them easily. If not, return to the microwave for 30 seconds at a time until done.
- Pour any remaining water from the container and run cold water over the carrots for a few minutes to halt the cooking process.
3. Softening Carrots By Quick Pickling
Quick pickling is a technique that is extremely popular in eastern Asian cooking, and it is spreading in popularity around the world.
Many people don’t realize that adding something acidic such as vinegar or lemon juice to food will alter the texture of the food. This can be a great way to soften tougher vegetables, such as large carrots.
This softening method works better with smaller pieces of carrot. Thinner slices will ‘cook’ in under half an hour, giving you a softer vegetable that retains the lovely flavor of raw carrot.
- Cut carrots into thin strips or slices and pop them in a bowl.
- Add enough lemon juice to coat the carrots thoroughly.
- Toss the carrots in the juice, cover, and leave for 15-20 minutes.
The result – carrot strips which are soft with some crunch, and a tangy fresh flavor. Perfect for salads!
Now that we’ve gone over some of the best and easiest methods for softening carrots, let’s take a look at a few related questions we thought you might’ve had while reading this article!
How do you soften carrots for stir-fry?
Carrots taste great in a stir-fry! Their juicy sweet flavor and crunchy texture work perfectly with Asian-inspired flavors, and they are a common ingredient in many stir-fry recipes.
However, some carrots are just too tough to stir-fry. Once cooked, stir-fried carrots should be soft with a firm texture, not chewy and tough.
These are the best way to get the perfect texture from your stir-fried carrots:
- Slice the carrots as thinly as possible, so they cook through thoroughly.
- Grate the carrots and add to the stir fry during the last couple of minutes of cooking time.
- Soften the carrots before stir-frying by either blanching, microwaving, or quick pickling.
How do you cook carrots in the microwave?
Using the microwave is one of the quickest and easiest ways to cook carrots. Although most of us are familiar with boiling or roasting carrots, popping them in the microwave is the perfect solution if you need carrots cooked in a hurry.
Here is the best way to cook carrots in the microwave:
- Rinse the carrots thoroughly under cold water, and peel if desired.
- Chop the carrots into bite-sized pieces. Baby carrots can be cooked whole.
- Transfer your prepared carrots to a microwave-safe dish or bowl.
- Add ¼ cup of water to the bowl – this will allow the carrots to steam.
- Place a lid on the container or cover with plastic wrap.
- Place the container into the microwave and put it on the highest setting for 3 minutes.
- Stir the carrots, then microwave for another 3 minutes at the highest setting.
- Remove the carrots, season with salt, pepper, herbs, and butter if desired, and serve.
Voila – perfect carrots, cooked in less than 10 minutes!
What can I do with leftover, overcooked, or soft carrots?
Found some old, soft carrots in the bottom of your salad drawer? Or perhaps you cooked too many for dinner and you’ve got half a pan leftover?
Don’t throw these little orange beauties away – they may not look at their best right now, but there are some great recipes for using up overcooked, leftover, or soft carrots!
These are our favorite suggestions for using up carrots that are past their best:
- Carrot fritters – mix soft raw grated carrot with herbs, spices, and cheese. Bind together with egg, form into patties and pan-fry. Delicious!
- Pies – leftover cooked carrots work perfectly in a pie! Combine with the rest of your leftovers from a pot roast to make the perfect ready-cooked pie filling.
- Soup – don’t throw those overcooked carrots away, as they will make an amazing soup! Combine with sauteed onion, garlic and herbs, add a splash of water and blend for a mouthwatering hot bowl of nutritious soup.