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Carrot pie, in its most basic sense, is a pastry shell that is filled at least in part with carrots, then baked and served as either a savory main course or a dessert. Savory carrot pies often incorporate meats, cheeses and nuts. They are popular throughout Europe, Russia and parts of the Middle East. Sweet carrot pies, on the other hand, are often combined with orange, ginger or sweet potato to form a dessert confection. Dessert carrot pies are most popular in North America and Asia.
The carrot is a taproot, and it is renowned by health experts all over the world for its high concentration of vitamins and minerals. It is indigenous to Europe and parts of central Asia, but it grows well in a variety of climates and has been cultivated with great success on six continents. A carrot pie is essentially any pie that uses carrots as a main ingredient. Many cultures have variations on the carrot pie, though the most popular versions tend to be associated with geographic regions that have traditionally high carrot outputs.
Some of the heartiest carrot pies trace their origins to Russia and the Middle East. These pies are often designed to be served as a main course, and they incorporate spiced meats and cheeses with the root vegetable. Sometimes the carrots are mashed before baking, but more often, they are simply diced and mixed in with the other ingredients. When carrots are on hand, this pie is an economical way to round out a meal and provide needed nutrients, often using little more than leftovers.
Carrot pie that is intended to be dessert is usually quite different. Aside from the crust, it often bears little resemblance to its savory counterpart — and even then, there can be differences. The most traditional sweet carrot pies, which likely owe their origins to northern Europe and what is now the United Kingdom, make use of a standard flaky pie crust. Modern cooks often add texture and flavor with sweeter crusts, sometimes using cookie crumbs or shortbread bases.
Cooks generally boil and mash the carrots before baking sweet pies. They might also add eggs, butter and spices such as cinnamon before pouring the mixture into the pastry shell. Some cooks add raisins, which make the pie more reminiscent of carrot cake, or nuts such as pecans to make a pecan carrot pie. Orange rind also makes a festive addition.
The finished product usually is smooth, and it often resembles a pumpkin pie in color. Carrot-loving cooks throughout the United States have been known to swap the traditional Thanksgiving pumpkin pie for a carrot pie. Although this pie can be served year-round, it is most common in the autumn.
Innovations and modifications are limitless. There are many ways of cooking with carrots and just as many ways to make carrot pie. Cooks often experiment with different taste combinations and ingredients. As long as the pie contains mostly carrots, it can properly be called a carrot pie — there really is no wrong way to complete the dish.
There's also a carrot-based dessert called halwah that I have found on the dessert bar at Indian restaurants. It sounds a lot like carrot pie, but without a crust. It's very sweet, and I think it contains pistachios or other nuts. I'd like to try an actual carrot pie, since I like pumpkin pies and other custard-based desserts. I have never seen it in grocery stores, though. I'll have to search online and see if they can be ordered from somewhere.
I've never actually seen a carrot pie like the ones described in this article, but I have had something very similar called carrot souffle. A chain of cafeteria-style restaurants here in the Deep South would serve it as a side dish on the hot bar. Shredded carrots would be mixed with eggs, cream, sugar and apple pie spices, then cooked until mostly firm. I thought it tasted a lot like pumpkin pie filling crossed with a sweet potato pie.
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