It’s so common we almost don’t notice it in the produce aisle, or if we do, it’s probably to chop up into a plain tuna salad, toss into chicken soup, dice with breadcrumbs for a holiday stuffing, or use to cradle a swath of creamy peanut butter. If you live in Louisiana, you might use celery along with onions and bell peppers to prepare the famed “holy trinity,” and some relish it with carrots and onions for a French mirepoix — found in soups and sauces. But for most of us, lowly celery seems to play a supporting role at best in our cultural cuisine.
The fact is celery has recognized anti-inflammatory properties, antioxidants, flavanoids, vitamins A, K and C. It comes alive when combined with stock and seasonings and braised, marinated, grilled, as soup practically on its own (just add cream!), in pesto and so much more. Love potatoes? Mashed or pureed celery root is a tasty low calorie, low carb substitute that just may surprise you. What’s more, the leaves we all tend to throw away are also flavorful (some say much more than the stalk) and can enhance almost any soup or stew — and are sometimes used as a dried herb.
Prior to the 19th century, celery was grown for use in winter and early spring, regarded as a cleansing tonic to counter the “salt sickness” of a winter diet fraught with preserved fish and meats. Its seeds (actually tiny fruits), while used as a seasoning, also produce an oil germane to the pharmaceutical and perfume industries. In 30 A.D., Roman encyclopaedist Aulus Cornelius Celsus noted celery seed used in pills for pain relief, and the seeds also contain a compound known in the lab to help lower blood pressure in rats.
In contemporary England, one might find a pint of Guinness garnished with a celery stalk, known as the Chelsea Cocktail, just as Americans use it to flag a Bloody Mary. But in a more starring role, celery can be upgraded and decorated to complement almost any savory dish — even standing on its own with a little cream and Sherry to make a rib-sticking cold weather soup.
Try these recipes that elevate celery to a leading culinary role!
8 celery stalks, rinsed and trimmed, leaves chopped and reserved
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Pinch kosher salt
Pinch freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup good quality beef stock or broth
Peel any of the fibrous outer stalks of celery with a vegetable peeler and slice into 1-inch pieces on the bias. Heat butter in a 10-inch sauté pan over medium heat. Once melted, add celery, salt, and pepper and cook for 5 minutes until just beginning to soften slightly. Add beef broth and stir to combine. Cover and reduce heat to low. Cook until celery is tender but not mushy, approximately 5 minutes. Uncover and allow celery to continue to cook for an additional 5 minutes or until the liquid has been reduced to a glaze. Transfer to a serving dish and garnish with reserved leaves.
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