Someone recently asked me about my favorite seasonal offering during winter. The ugly duckling of the vegetable bin, celery root, summarily came to mind. It is no surprise that the
knobby, warty, barnacle- like root is overlooked for sexier edibles of wintertime. Visually repugnant it may be, but I still recall my first taste. I was an angsty teen walking through a mall where a restaurant show was happening. Someone handed me a white paper cup with something mushy in it and something crispy on top. I can’t remember the crisp part, but I remember the shazam! moment when I tasted the puree. That entire season I asked every restaurant if they served celery root to no avail. To this day, a taste of celery root brings back the memory of a moment in time that really sparked food adventurism in me.
Celery root or celeriac (sometimes also called knob celery, turnip related celery, or Verona celery) is one of those vegetables you wonder aloud about at the farmers market with “what made the first person eat this?” It is not appetizing to look at. Still underrated in the U.S., it is widely used in Europe and has been since the Middle Ages. It even gets a mention in Homer’s Odyssey as “selinon.” Pretty sure the horses were eating it, but you have to start somewhere.
Celery root is the cousin to carrots, parsley, parsnips and anise- root vegetables that you eat either for their tips or their root. It is developed from the same wild species as stalk celery but it is cultivated for its root, not its stalk. Its flavor tastes like a fusion of celery and parsley and smells similarly. To me the taste is redolent of the earth-soil, but it in delicious way. It is delicious and a hearty non-starch replacement for potatoes. It is also remarkably storable, remaining fresh 1-2 weeks in a refrigerator and longer in a root cellar. I love root cellars. Remember to trim the leaves from the root before storing.
|Root cellars are one of my favorite things|
Before making its way onto European and Western Asian dinner plates, it was used mainly for medicinal and religious uses. I have read this in many books and descriptions about celery root but have not uncovered which sort of “religious uses” these were, unless aphrodisiacs and crowns of celery root leaves to cure hangovers are religious uses. For this is how the ancient Greeks used it. It is widely revered for its calming and analgesic properties. The Chinese used it to stabilize high blood pressure and much of Europe used it to detoxify the blood and eliminate intestinal parasites. The jury is out on whether celery root will cure your hangover or your love life, but celery root is extremely low in calories (1/2+ 20 calories), high in fiber, nonfat, and rich in vitamins A, E, & C, Potassium, Phosphorous, and Carotene.The root can be mashed, boiled, roasted, braised, sautéed, added to thicken soups and stews, sliced for salads, and even French friend. It is as versatile as our beloved potato but ever more nutritious and tasty. Look for firm tubers without lots of discolorations. Smaller roots taste better. Larger roots are woodier and better for long stewing or roasting. Remember to allow for about ¼ of it to be discarded as you peel off the thick outer layer. A knife works better than a vegetable peeler to “peel” the outer layer. Don’t discard those yummy leaves. They have the highest percentage of vitamin c. Use them to flavor soups, sautés, and salads. I have even made a quick pesto of them.
|Boiling the chopped root|
My favorite way to prepare celery root is with a simple puree. I peel, cut into cubes, and boil the root in half milk & half water for about 20 minutes. Drain, saving some of the liquid, then puree with a hand blender with some of the reserved liquid. Top it with a piece of trout and a few of the leaves.
Celeriac Remoulade is a classic French dish similar to coleslaw where the root is peeled, grated, placed in lemon juice, and dressed in a mustardy mayo. You can even pickle celery root using a simple dilly bean recipe. Hughsli sells a yummy looking celery root-kohlrabi mixture I would love to try. Empire State South here in Atlanta often has a celery root soup with candied hazelnuts that is pretty outstanding. I also used to love the celery root gnocchi from Hector Santiago at the recently closed Pura Vida. Check out this recipe by Hugh Acheson in Food and Wine for Creamy Celery Root Skordalia where he uses celery root in place of traditional potatoes.
|Photo from Best Emerging Chefs.com|
I asked a couple of chef friends their favorite way to prepare and eat celery root. Nick Melvin of the soon to be Garden District likes to do a celery root remoulade brown butter puree. Zeb Stevenson of The Livingston and Proof & Provision likes to make a celery root gratin. So many possibilities. I am going to try latkes with the celery roots I have on hand or celery root cake. Yes, cake (from Gotham in New York).