I've always thought of carrots as being orange - giving rise to the name 'carrot-top' for red-headed people (although the true carrot top - the leaves - are green, since the part we normally eat is the root, which grows underground). But while travelling in India a few months ago, I came across purple carrots. By contrast, a friend from India says she thought that all carrots were purple because they were the only ones she had seen when growing up. After digging a little deeper, I found that the carrot, like some other vegetables, used to grow in many colours - including white, yellow, golden, red and variegated - as well as in shapes other than long and tapered. Through selective breeding, growers have produced standard colours and shapes of carrot, which can differ from country to country. Purple carrots, like their orange cousins, can be sweet and crisp or flavourless and flaccid, depending on how old they are, how long they've been out of the ground and whether or not they've been stored correctly. Like other root vegetables, carrots have good 'keeping qualities'. But an old carrot that's been kept in a root cellar over a long winter is nothing like a small, pencil-thin carrot plucked from the ground in early spring. Purple carrots are sold in Hong Kong at shops that carry Indian produce. Choose them the same way you would any other carrot - they should be firm, and if they still have their green tops intact, they should be perky, not wilted. They are used in the same way as orange carrots, although the colour might be disconcerting when mixed into a mirepoix, which contains carrot, onion and celery. They would, however, make a lovely change in carrot soup. To make it, saute chopped onion and garlic with some butter. Add a large quantity of chopped purple carrots, some grated fresh ginger and a sprinkling of salt. Stir to coat the vegetables with the butter, then add a mild-tasting home-made vegetable stock. Simmer until the carrots are tender then puree in a food processor. Heat again until simmering, season with pepper and more salt, if needed, then ladle into bowls. Add a swirl of cream and some chopped carrot tops for colour contrast.