I will start off by saying that I never used an oven to bake (besides making chocolate chip cookies in my 6th grade home economics class) until I was 17. I mentioned this to my friend who grew up baking her entire childhood and she was taken aback by my lack of oven usage. Why on earth was I deprived from such an ordinary and staple household appliance? The funny truth is, our oven never worked and it was not essential to get it repaired because, well, Chinese households (at lease mine) rely on two things: a wok and stock pots. Baking cookies, cakes, turkey, casseroles, and all the wonderful things an oven can make were not part of my everyday meals at home. I had a lot of soups and stir fry entrees. Let’s put it this way – if the rice cooker broke, it would have been a serious issue. But the oven? Not so much…it really just became the object under the gas burners as well as extra storage space. I certainly still tried many other cuisines growing up, but it was just slightly different at home. After moving into a new house at 17, the oven at last became a part of my life. Today I depend on it as much as I depend on salt in the kitchen.
Now onto the main topic – carrots. I actually never used to be a big fan of them. In the past, they were just one the many ingredients in my soup, skinny sticks in my salad greens, or crunchy snacks that practically required peanut butter or ranch dressing to swallow down. Plain carrot sticks? Blah. After this period of non-excitement about carrots, these special root veggies have made a comeback.
And it’s all thanks to the miraculous oven! Roasting carrots amazingly brings out all these wonderful characteristics that simply cannot be achieved by steaming, boiling, stir frying, or any other cooking method. When roasted, carrots get nicely crisp and caramelized, adding to its lovely golden orange color. The flavor also becomes richly sweet and savory, a combination that is really fascinating to me. It almost reminds me of oven sweet potato fries. It is intensely good.
My recipe features Chinese five spice, a unique blend of spices that usually include star anise, fennel seeds, cassia (cinnamon varietal), Szechuan peppercorns, and cloves. This blend is highly aromatic, bringing great flavors to meats and vegetables. Sometimes it is also combined with table salt and is served along with steamed chicken at Chinese banquets. It captures the essence of sweet, salty, and tartness. Five spice can be found in most large supermarkets these days. Chez Pim provides a great method for making it, too. I paired five spice and carrots together because I have tried it with cinnamon alone, and they turned out to be a happy couple, so why not try five spice to make things more interesting? As it turns out, they were a great complex match.
Five Spice Roasted Carrots Recipe
Preparation Time: 30 minutes
Serves 2 as side dishes (can easily be doubled, tripled, etc.)
- 1 bunch carrots (about 8 small to medium carrots), cut into thick matchsticks, shown above
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon Chinese five spice powder
- Chef knife and cutting board
- Vegetable peeler
- Baking tray, lined with aluminum foil
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prepare carrots by washing, peeling, and chopping. Transfer carrots to lined baking tray. Drizzle with olive oil, five spice powder, salt, and pepper. Toss with hands to coat evenly. Make sure all carrots are flat on the baking tray to ensure even roasting.
- Roast for 20 minutes until golden brown. Serve immediately with your favorite pasta, meat, or fish.
- If five spice powder is impossible to find, it’s okay to omit; plain roasted carrots are phenomenal as well
- If you’re running short on time, peeled, ready-to-eat bagged carrot sticks work just fine. The cooking time may take an extra few minutes since the thickness is greater than the ones I cut. Also, bagged carrots tend to have extra water in the package, so it’s important to pat dry with a towel before roasting.
- Make extra because people are going to fight over these!
Having finally gotten a true appreciation for this vegetable, carrots are one of the many gifts from the Earth. They are widely available year-round and super inexpensive. Plus, there is no need to feel guilty for eating them – carrots are full of vitamin A and other great benefits.