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Carrots fit anywhere into a day's menu, appearing in appetizers, salads, soups and stocks, stews, vegetable dishes, main courses, baked goods, desserts and beverages. Rich in beta carotene (a naturally occurring form of vitamin A) and complex carbohydrates, raw carrots are practically a gold standard for nutritious, convenient snacking.

The faintly earthy aroma and mild sweet taste of raw carrot grows more pronounced with chopping, grating or juicing, but especially with cooking. A technique known as "sweating" is often the first step in preparing stocks, soups, stews and other dishes that rely on carrots (or onions, garlic or other vegetables) for flavor. Gentle sauteing or roasting causes carrots to "sweat" beads of moisture in which are the essential oils that carry the vegetable's distinctive aroma and flavor.

"Sweating" the carrots, onions and garlic in olive oil and dry sherry gives this lean, golden soup its satisfyingly rich taste.

Carrot Cardamom Bisque

1 cup chopped onion

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon olive oil

1/3 cup dry sherry

2 cups chopped carrots

4 cups defatted chicken broth

1 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/2 cup nonfat plain yogurt

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest

Salt and pepper, to taste
In a large stockpot over medium-low heat, slowly saute onion and garlic in oil and sherry until onion is soft but not browned (approximately 7 to 10 minutes). Add carrots and cook until they begin to sweat (approximately 5 minutes more). Add broth and bring to a boil.

Raise heat to medium and cook until vegetables are very tender (about 20 minutes). Puree mixture in batches in a blender or food processor; return puree to pot. Stir in cardamom, yogurt, nutmeg and orange zest. Add salt and pepper to taste. Heat through and serve at once. Makes about 6 cups.

Grated carrots and crushed pineapple make a new-new-fashioned style of carrot cake that's low in fat and refined sugar, but moist and just sweet enough.

Topped with maple-cream cheese frosting, the cupcakes are a healthful choice for a children's party, a coffee or tea break, dessert or a lunchbox.

Carrot Pineapple Cupcakes with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting

Vegetable oil or cooking spray, for coating muffin tin

2 eggs

3 tablespoons pineapple juice (drained from canned crushed pineapple packed in juice)

1/4 cup reduced-fat buttermilk

1/4 cup canola or safflower oil

1 cup sifted whole wheat pastry flour or unbleached all- purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon nutmeg

1/3 cup chopped walnuts

1/2 cup raisins or dried currants

3/4 cup canned crushed pineapple (packed in juice), drained

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1 cup freshly grated carrots

4 ounces cream cheese, softened

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

2 tablespoons maple syrup
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil a 12-cup muffin tin or line with paper or foil cupcake liners.

Separate eggs, reserving egg whites in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Place egg yolks in a large bowl; add pineapple juice, buttermilk and the 1/4 cup oil. Mix well and set aside.

In a separate bowl, mix flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Set aside.

In another bowl combine walnuts, raisins, pineapple, sugar and carrots. Add egg yolk mixture and stir well. Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form.

Make a well in center of dry ingredients and pour in carrot mixture. Mix until just blended. Fold in egg whites.

Spoon batter into prepared muffin tin, filling cups two-thirds full. Bake until firm in center (about 15 minutes).

While cupcakes are baking, prepare maple-cream cheese frosting by mixing cream cheese, vanilla and maple syrup until smooth and creamy. Let cupcakes cool on wire rack before frosting them. Makes 1 dozen cupcakes, 12 servings.