Appetizer Condiments Tex-Mex

Ninfa’s spicy pickled carrots recipe

Ninfas spicy pickled carrots DSC5373 e1508771762460

Spring in New York City can be tough. One day it will be bright and shiny weather, no jacket required. But just when you’re packing away your heavy coat, the next day will bring freezing rain and snow. The farmers’ markets reflect this instability by refusing to offer anything but the same old turnips, potatoes and carrots that have been there for the past few months.

But you know what? That’s okay, as I’ve got a big batch of Ninfa’s spicy pickled carrots to snack on right now.

Ninfa’s pickled carrots are not on the menu, but they’ve been offering them for as long as I can remember. When you go to Ninfa’s, you have to ask for these carrots as they’re served by request only. But when you say, “I’d like the carrots, please,” the server will nod and smile, as if the two of you are privy to a delicious secret.

Ninfa's spicy pickled carrots | Homesick Texan

What makes these carrots so special? Well, they’re tender yet crisp rounds that have been marinated in a tangy, earthy blend of vinegar, oregano, cumin, onions, and chiles de arbol. A few slices of jalapeño are added for extra heat, but unlike other escabeches, carrots play the leading role.

Apparently, Ninfa’s on Navigation now offers a fajita burger (which I’m eager to try), and they serve the carrots on the side. This is a brilliant choice, as I’ve long added a few of the pickled carrots to my tacos al carbon as a way to balance out the richness of the beef. But why they don’t automatically serve the carrots with every meal is still a mystery, as along with Ninfa’s green sauce these spicy carrots help complete the meal.

A few years ago, the Houston Chronicle published the recipe for the carrots, noting that the proper name for the dish is curtido. (Who knew?). I’ve been sitting on that recipe for quite some time, but I finally whipped up a batch and was pleased at what a snap they are to make. In no time, my kitchen began to smell like a Tex-Mex joint and Houston didn’t seem so far away.

Ninfa's spicy pickled carrots | Homesick Texan

Now, this recipe packs quite a lot of heat—heck, even my fireproof palate was slightly singed after eating them—so please proceed with caution if you’re sensitive to that, and perhaps cut back on the chiles. But despite the fire, the flavor is just as I remembered it—peppery, soulful and bright. And while I wait for spring to finally get here, snacking on these spicy pickled carrots will be a fine way to patiently bide my time.

Ninfas spicy pickled carrots DSC5373 e1508771762460
5 from 5 votes

Ninfa’s spicy pickled carrots

Servings 2 pints
Author Adapted by Lisa Fain from the Houston Chronicle


  • 1 cup water
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 cups white vinegar
  • 1 ounce chiles de arbol, stems removed
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 pound carrots, cut into thin rounds
  • 1/4 cup slivered onions
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 jalapeño, seeds and stem removed, sliced


  1. In a medium-sized pot, add the water, vegetable oil, vinegar and chiles de arbol. Bring to a boil and then turn the heat down to medium. Cook for 5 minutes, uncovered.

  2. Add to the pot the cumin, oregano, black pepper and salt. Continue to cook on medium for 5 more minutes. Add the sliced carrots, onions, garlic and jalapeño, and cook for 10 minutes, or until the carrots are your desired texture. Taste and add more salt if you prefer.
  1. Heather @ chiknpastry

    i know exactly what you mean! chicago was nice for a week and i had a paper-thin jacket. now i'm back to the puffy coat :(.

    spicy carrots sound fantastic right about now!

  2. Caroline Shields

    Thanks for secret sharing. I'll eat anything pickled or spicy. Perfect combo in my mind.

  3. Yes! Thank you for your nod to Ninfa's. Ninfaritas were one of the most eagerly anticipated treats when I was at Baylor. I think they were like $1.50 at happy hour and man, they packed a punch. I never knew the carrots existed, though. When we visit the fam in Waco, I'll be sure to order. And feel really cool doing so. 🙂

  4. Oh, thank you!!! I needed that recipe! Every time I get back to Texas, the first thing I have to do is eat at Ninfa's on Navigation in Houston. I can make a whole meal off the soft flour tortillas and these carrots!

  5. Thank you thank you thank you!
    Oh, how I've missed these!! Will whip up a batch tonight to make my CA house feel like home in TX.

    BTW, your blog GOT ME THROUGH the intense "gotta taste like home" cravings I had in my recent pregnancy. Your recipe for cheese enchiladas with chili gravy is perfect.

  6. Kartik @ Bakeology 101

    I love picked carrots! I recently made Clotilde's version of carrots picked with a ginger-vinegar base (from Chocolate & Zucchini), which was delicious as well. I look forward to using my picking jar for this.

  7. Sense of Home

    Now here is a recipe to tuck away for this summers gardening and pickling sessions, thank you.


  8. masdevallia

    I love pickled carrots too! I'll eat the jalapenos and onions too, but the carrots are the stars!

    A note on the heat: in the winter time, chili plants take longer to ripen. The longer the pepper is on the vine, the hotter it is. So, winter peppers are often much spicier than spring and summer, even from the same plant. Try it again when the weather warms up, and it might not be such an assault on the taste buds.

  9. Lisa Fain

    Heather–These carrots will keep you warm! And hopefully you can put away your puffy coat for good soon.

    Caroline–I'm with you–anything pickled or spicy is always wonderful.

    Kirsten–You have to try the carrots!

    Texana–Yep, Ninfa's on Navigation is usually a first stop whenever I go home.

    Cbvwew–So glad the blog helped you through your cravings! And congrats on the new addition!

    Kartik–Oh, now those sound terrific! I love the addition of ginger.

    Sense of Home–You're welcome!

    Masdevallia–I did not know that about chiles, but it makes sense. Thanks for the information and I'll keep that in mind when the summer batches start to arrive.

  10. anamanzana

    i am going to have to try the carrots next time i go to ninfa's, but will have to work up the courage to ask for them. i am afraid that the waiter will not know what i am talking about. i LOVE their green sauce that they serve with their red salsa and chips. do you have a recipe for that?
    rats, now i am craving ninfa's and it closed here in fort worth…i'll have to wait until i am in college station.

  11. Anonymous

    I just stumbled across your blog, and what a wonderful recipe to greet me! I am also a Homesick Texan, in Michigan for now. This carrot recipe will carry me through 'til my summer trip to San Antone. Thanks!

  12. Spring in New York City can be tough.

    Wish I were there.

  13. Maris (In Good Taste)

    Interesting recipe and one that I must try.

  14. Oh yeah! One of my favorite things! Will be making these soon. I love off the menu items-it is like a hidden code between the diner and server.

  15. mahlookma

    I love Ninfa's! Thank you so much for this recipe.

    I'm a Kansas City girl who lives in Texas but gets all of Texas food info from you. 🙂

  16. Sadly, I don't have a Ninfa's near me, but I remember always asking for extra carrots at another popular Mexican restaurant nearby. I am so gonna make these. It's my favorite way to eat carrots. Just made a big old 5 gallon jar of Christmas pickles. The carrots will be another fun treat in the fridge! Thanks!

  17. Meister @ The Nervous Cook

    I've been craving spicy pickled carrots since my squeeze & I came back from Austin a few weeks ago — this post is getting bookmarked right… now!

  18. I just made a batch myself! I will definitely try these when I run out though.

  19. I am so shocked! We grew up in Houston and ate at Ninfa's regularly (their green salsa is to. die. for.) but I have never ever ever ever heard of these carrots.

  20. kickpleat

    I'm not sure what it is, but I'm loving carrots lately a whole lot. And I love the idea of a spicy pickled version. Yum.

  21. I made a batch of pickled pineapple a few weeks ago that turned out delicious, so you know I'll have to give this a try. Thanks so much for the recipe.

  22. I have never had pickled carrots but these look awesome. I love the heat! And yes, they are perfect for March/April when it's supposed to be spring but it isn't. I did finally see some asparagus the other day, and I'm hopeful that spring peas are coming soon, but for now – hot hot hot carrots!

  23. Susan S.

    YUM….I LOVE these Ninfa's carrots. Molina's used to make them but I was there on Friday and they said NO MORE CARROTS. Wahhhh! Oh well, Ninfa's (on Navigation) is still my favorite anyway.
    When you make these your whole house will smell like Vinegar, but in a GOOD way!

  24. Lisa Fain

    Susan–Exactly! All that cumin and oregano goes very well with the vinegar.

  25. Leaving to buy carrots RIGHT NOW.

  26. crystal - The Best of Thymes

    OH MY GOD! We must be channeling the same Ninfa's energy – I spent my Sunday afternoon making escabeche. When I waited tables at Ninfa's about 10 years ago, all the 'in the know' customers would request it. We kept it in a special place in the back walk-in. And I'd take a cup home with me each night…with a Taco a la Ninfa, of course.

  27. Crazy Radishes

    These sound yummy, but what is the purpose of the oil? Most recipes use vinegar from what I know.

  28. Anonymous

    This looks wonderful, question about the chiles. I have some dried, is there a fresh version? I've never seen them, if so.

  29. Thnaks for the recipes, lately i am eating a lot of carrots, they are good for you skin and protect you from the sun, so i have them baked, in juices or soup but i will try in this way as well.

  30. Sea Palm Treasures

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. Not too effusive I hope. I've been craving these for quite a long time. Used to get them at a restaurant in LA, but don't live there no more. I've made escabeche before, but couldn't get the right zing to it. Guess what I'm making this week? Your recipe of course, and have to say I look forward to trying more of your recipes.

  31. Lisa, thanks for this recipe.
    I can hardly wait till your book comes out and I can gift it to people. I can claim blog buddy status. If that's OK with you.

  32. If you were wanting to make a milder version, which chilies would make a suitable substitute?

  33. Lisa Fain

    Anamanzana–Don't be afraid to ask! And yes, I do have Ninfa’s green sauce recipe. Enjoy!

    Anon–You're very welcome. You'll be back in San Antonio before you know it.

    Shelley–It's a beautiful day today, so I'm not complaining. Hope you make it here soon!

    Nicole–Those are stunning!

    Melissa–Yep, off-the-menu items are fun!

    Mahlookma–That's too funny! I love it!

    Renee–It's my favorite way to eat carrots, too.


    Mandy–Nope, they're not on the menu, and I think they used to bring them out with the chips and hot sauce, but they stopped.

    Kickpleat–Carrots are wonderful because they can be both savory and sweet. I love them, too!

    Lea Ann–Pickled pineapple sounds terrific!

    German–They are veyr good fo ryou!

    Katie–Hooray for asparagus! I can't wait until the pop up here in NYC.

  34. Oh how I love pickled carrots! They perk up any plate of food – I especially love them on tacos.

    I love the look of this recipe. I'm wondering if it would work as a canning recipe… I would love to have jars of these hanging around the house!

  35. lisa is cooking

    I thinking these would be just as good with beer as peanuts are! And, I'm willing to test that theory.

  36. YUM! Gotta make these…They sound wonderful! I lived in Austin for 30 years and am trying not to be toooooo homesick…but never came across these delightful carrots… Your site always brings a smile… I spent 10 days in NYC the end of Oct last year. It was unseasonably warm and wonderful… I'm looking fwd to visiting again…


  37. Anonymous

    For a delayed, back of the throat heat, use a dried habanero chile cut in half in the pickling liquid.

  38. Lisa Fain

    Maryn–Hope you enjoy them!

    Crystal–What a story! If I ever worked at Ninfa's, I know that I'd take a cup home every night, too.

    Crazy Radishes–It makes for a more emulsified sauce. Omit it, if you like.

    Anon–Nope, all chiles de arbol are dried. The fresh version is a serrano chile.

    Sea Palm Treasures–You're very welcome!

    Tommy–That's totally OK with me–I'm honored! I just hope they sell it up in Toronto.

    Janus–I'd just cut back on the chiles or eliminate them, unless you wanted to use a bell pepper, which has no heat.

    Allison–Sure, after packing it into jars with fresh lids, put them in the water bath and boil for 10 minutes.

    Lisa is Cooking–I think you'e on to something. Have fun testing the theory!

    Louanne-NYC is often warm in October–that's a terrific month to visit!

    Anon–Good to know!

  39. Those carrots look fabulous, and I love having a recipe so I can adjust the heat!

  40. Candy (Dulce)

    Can't wait to try asking for these at the local Ninfa's that opened close to my work. Definitely a favorite to have pickled carrots. Can't wait to try. Thanks!!!

  41. texichan

    i lovelovelove these! i so miss the pickled vegetables from ninfa's – piled on top of my chips with some queso to complete the cycle of flavors.

  42. These types of secrets are totally meant to be shared! It would be a shame not to.

    Mmm. Last time I had pickled carrots was in a nice spicy batch of escabeche I made. But, this recipe looks amazing. Definitely bookmarking.

  43. You know what I'd like you to do, yes? 🙂

  44. Do you strain the liquid after cooking or do you store the carrots in the fridge wwith the liquid?

  45. I had these just last week at Ninfa's. My entire family loves them. Thanks for the recipe I will try to make these soon!

  46. Holtnotes

    Grew up in San Antonio but have now lived in Houston since '74. Enjoy reading your blog and realize how lucky I am to be able to find the ingredients I need to make the Tex-Mex I love – or head out the door with many choices for good mexican food. Just wish that Houston had S.A. Tex-Mex – Puffy tacos etc. It amazes me that certain items are still very regional.

    Another blog I follow is the Amatuer Gourmet. Noticed today that he blogged about a place in Queens that he went to get homemade masa and a store where he purchased dried peppers. He also gave the directions on which bus to take etc.

    I love the carrots at Ninfas. Yum!!I will have to try making them at home. I was looking at your bread and butter jalapeno recipe. I buy mine at Brookwood and the liquid they are packed in is VERY syrupy. I wondered if yours turn out that way.

    Having grown up with Luling and Lockhart BBQ it makes me happy that you have access to good BBQ.
    I love NYC – one of my favorite cities to visit and eat my way around town.

    Enjoy your blog – you do a really nice job with your pictures and your posts.

  47. Lisa –

    As a native Houstonian, I remember these super-fondly! I'm at grad school now and used this recipe as inspiration for something we made for an Iron Chef competition. The secret ingredient was pear and I made carnitas braised in pear nectar (based on a Food & Fire blog recipe), then used yours to make spicy pickled asian pear (instead of carrots). Was absolutely delicious and we won! I imagine it'd be awesome with jicama as well.

    Keep it up for us Texans,

  48. Lisa Fain

    Laura–Thank you! And yes, you can make them as hot as you lke.

    Cand–You're very welcome!

    Texichan–What a great link–thanks for sharing!

    Lo–These spicy pickled carrots are definitely mean to be shared.

    Sean–Ha! Yes I do!

    Jlynn–I store them in the liquid. When you're done with the carrots, it makes a fantastic salad dressing.

    Ramsey–My entire family loves them, too!

    Holtnotes–Thank you so much for the kind words. As for puffy tacos in Houston, there's a new place in Houston called El Real Tex Mex that has them. And I'm a big fan of Tortilleria Nixtamal–the best tortillas in NYC.

    Viljay–I love that you made spicy Asian pear–what a unique twist!

  49. LimeCake

    I love pickled anything! There's just something so addictive about the flavours of spicy, sour, sweet and salty.

  50. Gerry Kelly

    I got the recipe from Ninfa on Navigation years ago and had misplaced it in moving back to Houston from New Orleans.

    I am so glad to get it again…these are a favorite of mine for many, many years and I hope others are enjoying them too!

  51. Inquirer

    Had a great lunch on the patio at Ninfa's on Navigation yesterday which included spicy carrots, al pastor tacos and a margarita. About a good a lunch as I have ever had.

  52. New Southern Pantry

    So, after the bluebonnet pitures made me cry happy tears….the Ninfa's made me hungry! Southern emotions are tied to everything regardless. I have Robb Walsh's Real Tex Mex Cookbook and make Ninfa's red & green sauce everytime I make her Fajitas!!! I'm hungry!

  53. Thank you for posting this! I think this might be the perfect early pregnancy food (before the heartburn sets in). Get my veggies, and help the baby learn that spicy food is heavenly. Hubby is from Ohio so I need to work extra hard to cancel out those wimpy spice toleration genes.
    Had some today at 100% Taquito (59 @ Edloe, Houston – don't judge until you try it). Their carrots were picked in a vinegary green salsa. Pretty good.

  54. The only problem with this recipe (and I, too, have horded that Chronicle recipe for years…) is that no matter how many pounds of carrots I use, it still results in "Serving size: ONE", and a serious case of tummy burn.

    It's worth it.

    Good good stuff.

  55. Kearby's Kitchen

    That recipe sounds great. I'll definitely be trying it. I think the vinegary coleslaw-like condiment that's served with Salvadorean and Columbian food is also called curtido. I need to ask my Spanish-speaking hubby for a translation!

  56. Stephanie Manley

    These are some of my favorite things at many of the Mexican restaurants I have been. I just love to take one of these carrots and place it on a tortilla chip. Nom Nom Nom

  57. Made these today with carrots from my organic veg box. Tangy, spicy, great. Love escabeche/cortido!

  58. Little Black Car

    FYI: Ruchi's at Shepherd @ Alabama served these to us last night, only with jalapeño instead of chile de árbol. I brought home the extras, chopped them, and mixed them with chopped celery to marinate overnight. Makes a great salad.

  59. Anonymous

    Hey Lisa – I think I'm going to make these this weekend and actually can them. What do you think: 1/4 inch head space, 10 minute water bath?

    Warmly, Eleanor

  60. Lisa Fain

    Eleanor–Yep, that's exactly what I'd do. Enjoy!

  61. Tera Holder

    We're making these tonight! How long do you think they will last canned? We're going to use our pressure canner I do believe. Sooooo excited to try these!

  62. Lisa Fain

    Tera–I've never used a pressure canner but I reckon they'd last as long as anything else properly processed–a year or so.

  63. Anonymous

    After skipping some of the recipes I had planned for last week in favor of, who would have guessed, tex-mex, I had a good two pounds of carrots to use up… and I remembered this!!! I didn't have any cumin on hand so I substituted plain ol' chili powder, and MAN are these things good! Thanks Lisa!

  64. RodeoPunkMusic

    I made these yesterday as written and OMG are they delicious – I let them sit in the frig over night to cool – wow. I made taco's for lunch and these carrots were just what they needed to kick them up. Spicy, tangy with great texture and bite – my new taco staple!

  65. laruebridge

    Oh how late I am in discovering your blog and this recipe…as I type this I am sitting in Ninfas on Navigation awaiting my Curtido's to go. I stop by weekly to get my "to go @10 bucks" fix ;). A bit of history on this beloved Houston hotspot in the mid 80's (yes I have been frequenting this gem for several decades…best location Navigation 2nd best now defunct Kirby) they used to have them in a little covered jar on every table.

  66. I made this yesterday…spicier than I remember from the Baton Rouge Ninfa’s (closed)…but, the taste is spot on…I will make again and use fewer peppers…thanks

  67. Sally Zike

    I just found my original Ninfa’s (curtido) carrot relish recipe clipped from Houston Chronicle. It was provided by Roland Laurenzo, Ninfa’s son who runs/ran El Tiempo Cantina.
    Google Alex Padilla of Ninfa’s Houston for his fajita burger recipe which won a tv competition called “best chef on the block”. I’ll bet that his is the new burger on the menu.

  68. Sally Zike

    Padilla is executive chef at Ninfa’s on Navigation in Houston. He won the 3 contestant recipe competition on tv’s The Chew.

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