Celery ~ the ‘Lowly’ Vegetable

My dear 92-year-old momma was tormented by me as a child who, like many others, hated vegetables.  As some of you may remember, I used to swallow peas and lima beans whole in order not to chew or taste them.  Oddly, I loved celery and still do.  Mom would place cut celery stalks in my Barbie lunch box.  Sometimes they would be filled with peanut butter and other times with pimento cheese (remember pimento cheese stuffed stalks at our parents’ cocktail parties – LOL – I found that to be so sophisticated!).

Celery gets a bum rap.  It is low in calories, high in fiber and Vitamin K and is believed to have beneficial medicinal properties.  Some research studies have shown that celery has been used to reduce blood pressure in humans.  Long ago, in the beginning of time, it was used to relieve pain; probably because today it is known to have anti-inflammatory benefits as well as anti-oxidants.

In the United States, commercial production of celery is mostly a cultivar called ‘Pascal’ celery. The stalks grow in a straight, tight bunch and are found that way in the produce section sans roots and with few leaves.  Hearts of celery are light in color as one may expect but I think they are tender and have more flavor.  Today, over one billion pounds of celery are produced in this country alone.

In cooking, celery is part of the ‘Holy Trinity’ of Creole and Cajun cuisine along with onion and bell peppers.  Mirepoix, a French cooking term, is a staple in my preparation of stocks and many recipes.  It is the trio of onion, carrot and celery.  The aroma set off by this mixture is undeniably recognizable.  I use it to flavor and begin so many dishes, like braised meats, sauces and stuffings.  Please refer back to archived posts on this blog site!

My husband and I recently vacationed in the Florida Keys.  One day for lunch I ordered a fresh caught, grilled piece of fish that was served with a celery salad.  It consisted of chopped celery, seedless grapes and a very light, creamy vinaigrette.  The perfect accompaniment!  Just like cucumbers, celery can be the star of its own salad or combined with other cold vegetables to create a nice side dish.

Personally, I cannot eat tuna fish salad without onions and celery.  Throw in a few chopped pickles and it is perfection.  Recently, I read in a new cookbook in my collection about pickling celery.  Pickled celery can be a substitute for those pickles. Who knew?  Here’s how:  In a small bowl, whisk together ¼ cup white wine vinegar, ¼ cup water, 1 T. Kosher salt and 1-1/2 t. sugar.  Add 2 stalks of thinly sliced celery and let sit for an hour (the longer the better).  Walla!  Blasphemous, yes, but OH, so delicious!

Now, celeriac is a horse of a different color.  Also called turnip-rooted celery, knob celery or celery root, it is the ugly step-sister of celery but is a flavor bomb!  The taste is nuttier than the stalk and adds an excitement to side dishes.

Celeriac is in season in the fall (increasingly found year-round in specialty markets) but will last a long time in the refrigerator if kept wrapped in a moist paper towel and stored in an airtight bag.  Or you can share the big root with a friend like I do as a little goes a long way.  You must peel it with a knife because the skin is very tough and a vegetable peeler will not go through it.  You’ll lose a little of the vegetable in doing so but there is no way to avoid it.  When preparing a dish, I find that the food processor is the best way to grate celery root or use a mandoline to julienne.  Cutting it into those fine strips requires a very sharp knife and steady hand.  I see that scenario ending with a rather large wound or missing finger!  I would compare the texture and thickness of celery root to that of an overgrown parsnip.

I first experimented with celeriac when I attended a culinary demonstration at a local community college.  I say demonstration as even though we were supposed participate in preparation, the chef was too impatient with us so we just let him do his thing and reaped the rewards of watching and tasting the dishes.  I have prepared this dish so often that I don’t even need to look at the measurements.  Plus I have switched up ingredients from time to time as below, making it my own.

Ali’s Celery Root Salad

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium celery root, peeled, rinsed and julienned
  • ½ medium tart apple, sliced thin (sometimes I substitute julienned carrots)
  • 2 scallions, sliced thin
  • 2 t. fresh parsley, minced
  • 2 t. fresh tarragon, minced
  • Salt and pepper to taste

For the dressing:

  • 4 T. fresh lemon juice
  • 3 T. Dijon mustard
  • 2 t. honey
  • ½ t. salt
  • 6 T. canola oil
  • 6 T. sour cream

Preparation:

  1. Combine all the salad ingredients in a large bowl.
  2. Whisk together all dressing ingredients in another bowl and add to salad.
  3. Refrigerate until chilled.

I have served this dish as its own side salad or slaw with various main courses.  It is slightly sweet and tangy at the same time.

Another variation of this dish is celery root rémoulade. Rémoulade is a French condiment that typically  is mayonnaise based and flavored with capers and/or anchovies and herbs. Barefoot Contessa makes this dish without some of those ingredients; I use only capers. I also add Maryland blue crab to it because well, blue crab makes everything taste better.

Ali’s Celery Root and Crab Salad

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups celery root, grated and peeled
  • 1/2 cup red onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 lb. fresh jumbo lump crab meat
  • 3 T. mayonnaise
  • 1 T. Dijon mustard
  • 1 T. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 t. fresh tarragon, finely chopped
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • 1/8 t. red pepper flakes
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • Baby Boston lettuce leaves

Preparation:

  1. Combine first 3 ingredients in a medium bowl.
  2. Combine mayonnaise and next 6 ingredients in a small bowl.
  3. Gradually add olive oil, whisking well.
  4. Spoon some of the crab and celery root mixture in the center of each lettuce leaf.
  5. Drizzle the dressing over each serving.

I love this dish as a nice, light summer appetizer, first course or small plate.  The recipe makes about 12 servings.  Bold enough to stand alone.  I have yet to make celery root soup but I am sure it would be divine.  I plan to prepare the soup later this year but bring on the warm weather first.  Finally, celery root and potato purée is a wonderful side to braised meat dishes.  It is light and melts in your mouth.

Ali’s Celery Root and Potato Purée

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. celery root, peeled and cut into large chunks
  • 1 lb. Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 T. butter
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

  1. Cook celery root and potato in separate pots of boiling water until tender, about 20 minutes for potatoes, 30 minutes for celery root.
  2. Heat the milk and butter in a small pot until scalded.
  3. Purée the celery root with ¾ of the hot milk in a food processor.
  4. Process the potatoes either through a food mill or potato ricer. DO NOT BE TEMPTED TO USE THE FOOD PROCESSOR FOR THE POTATOES ~ THEY WILL BE GUMMY!
  5. In a large bowl, combine the celery root and potatoes and remaining milk to create a firm yet creamy consistency.*

*If you are not serving the dish immediately, keep the bowl warm over simmering hot water.  Add a little more milk if it sits longer than 10 minutes to keep this consistency.

Next time you are clamoring for an idea; don’t turn your nose up in the produce section at these two underrated vegetables.  Use my recipe ideas and you won’t be disappointed.

Bon appétit!

Ali

Advertisements

One comment

  1. I forgot about the celery root and crab thing. Can’t wait till the crabs are back!

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: