When asked to name the most under-rated vegetable, MasterChef judge Graham Elliot didn’t hesitate: Celery!
“I love it for the crunch, and for its slight bitter edge,” says the celebrated Chicago chef and restaurateur, in TO recently to promote Walmart’s fresh produce.
“You can juice it, shave it into salads, pickle it, garnish a cocktail, make stock …there are so many things you can do with celery,” he says, “and it’s inexpensive.”
Fellow cookbook author Barbara Kafka agrees, calling celery “massively ignored except in chicken soup or tuna salad.”
She could have added Ants on a Log, the popular kid’s snack of celery sticks stuffed with peanut butter and dotted with raisins.
The sturdy green stalks weren’t always so unloved. In Medieval times, wizards believed celery seeds could help them fly. And celery leaves, which most of us discard, were woven into garlands found in the tomb of Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamen.
We can probably thank the French for forcing us to buy a bunch of celery every time we make a soup or stew. In a mirepoix (soffritto in Italian), chopped celery is sautéed gently with onions and carrots for a flavourful base. The leaves are also bundled into a bouquet garni with bay leaves, parsley and thyme sprigs to flavour stock.
Classic dishes such as tender braised celery, delicious with roast chicken, or cream of celery soup cooked in stock or thickened with potatoes, elevate celery to elegant heights.
Now that meals have morphed into an all-day graze, celery is a superstar. Its portability and refreshing crunch – it’s actually 95% water – makes it an ideal snack. Giant US growers even sell bags of pre-chopped celery sticks, ready to fill with your favourite spread when the munchies hit.
As Elliot says, crunch away!
- Celery was born in the Mediterranean region, but is now grown everywhere.
- Leafy celery stalks and the knobby celery root were once varieties of the same plant. Over time, breeders produced two different crops, one growing above ground and one below.
Buy and store
- Ontario celery is available from now until October
- Look for crisp pale green stalks and fresh-looking leaves.
- Avoid bunches with thin, stringy stalks.
- Wrap whole bunch in plastic and store in the refrigerator crisper for a week or two.
- To keep trimmed stalks super crisp, stand in a jar of water, cover with a plastic bag and refrigerate.
- Leftover celery actually freezes well. Slice and freeze on baking sheets for several hours; transfer to air-tight plastic bags and freeze for several months. Use in cooking.
- Leave stalks attached to the base until you need them.
- Separate into stalks and rinse well under cold running water to remove any dirt trapped in the heart.
- Trim leaves before cooking but reserve for garnishes, soups, stuffing and stews.
- Cut off bottom core and white ends of stalk.
- Removing the stringy fibres is no longer necessary unless celery is old and tough.
- Chopped celery adds a refreshing crunch to soft foods including bean or chickpea salad, and sandwich fillings such as chicken salad, egg and tuna salad.
- Braising celery in butter, olive oil or vegetable stock until meltingly tender mellows its flavour. Near the end of cooking, add fresh herbs, chopped tomatoes or slivered almonds.
- For a super low-fat snack, fill the groove of a celery stick with low-fat cream cheese dusted with paprika. Protein-rich peanut butter, blue cheese or even hummus topped with shredded carrots also make a great snack.
- Add celery to a veggie stir-fry. Sauté chopped celery, carrots, broccoli florets, onions and bell peppers in a little oil. Add reduced-sodium soy sauce and serve over brown rice or in a whole wheat pita.
- Make a Waldorf-type slaw with sliced celery, shredded cabbages, diced apples, grapes and walnuts bound with mayonnaise.
- Slice a large fennel bulb and 6 stalks celery extra thin and drizzle with ¼ cup (60 mL) fruity olive oil and 2 tbsp (30 mL) fresh lemon juice.
Use up extra celery and soon-come Ontario apples in this refreshing summer salad. Plucked from neighbour Brigid’s recipe box.
3 tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
2 tbsp liquid honey
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 small garlic clove, minced
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
6 stalks celery, trimmed, thinly sliced on diagonal
2 large or 3 medium firm apples, unpeeled, cored and thinly sliced
¼ cup fresh chopped parsley
¼ cup toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped
In a large serving bowl, whisk to combine lemon juice, mustard, honey, oil, garlic, salt and pepper. Add the celery, apples, parsley and walnuts. Toss well to combine. Chill for an hour before serving.
Makes 6 servings.