Celery is a vegetable in the same family as carrots, fennel and parsley, that in the U.S. is traditionally used during the winter holidays or as a diet aid. Children in the U.S. become familiar with celery because of the numerous delicious spreads that these half-tubes hold. Things like peanut butter, cream cheese, pimento cheese, and canned Cheeze Whiz mask the bitterness of the vegetable and make it more palatable to young taste buds. But, most kids will eat out the gooey spread, tossing the vegetable aside. It’s the astringent and bitter qualities that make kids, as well as many adults, dislike the vegetable.
The whole celery plant is edible: leaves, stalks, and root, also know as celeriac (a much milder tasting option). Older tougher leaves can be unpleasant and numbing to the tongue when eaten alone. However, chopped finely and tossed in any number of salads the bitterness adds a nice depth of flavor that’s often missing from mild lettuce leaves alone.
Celery is rarely eaten as a cooked side dish in the U.S. France is the only country that comes to mind that serves celery by itself; usually braised. Of course, there’s also the stir-fry dishes at most Chinese restaurants with more chunks of celery than meat, or anything else. Most likely because it’s so inexpensive. Chinese celery is often the preferred vegetable in these stir-fry dishes, but it’s not as easy to find in most grocery stores outside of major cities and their Chinatowns.
Celery has become a cliché with women and dieting. Often advertisers, when promoting a new diet product, will use the image of a woman eating a stalk of celery as the woman’s only known form for losing weight. It’s a misnomer that one will burn more calories eating a stalk of celery than the stalk contains – that it has a “negative” calorie effect in our diet. That celery is low caloric is not the only reason for eating it, or for that matter eating most vegetables and fruits. Raw celery does have only 8 calories per cup and is made up of mostly fiber and water, but it’s also a source of vitamins A, B, C, and E, potassium and calcium. Plus, the bitterness of celery is an astringent, which makes it a good diuretic, especially when concentrated and drunk in fresh juice form. So even though it might be a cliché, celery is a great vegetable for weight-loss when incorporated into a responsible diet plan.
The most common preparation for celery is to sauté it with onions and carrots, also called mirepoux or soffritto, when creating a soup or a base for a sauce. In Louisiana, the Holy Trinity of cooking consists of celery, onions, and peppers (red, green, or yellow). The bitterness of celery is mellowed and mingles with the sweetness of the carrots or peppers and the strong sulfuric qualities of the onion.
Storing celery in a plastic bag in the fridge will keep it crisp for a week or two. If the stalks become limp, however, don’t toss it away, just yet. Celery, like many vegetables, will rehydrate within an hour or two. Cut ¼ – ½ inch off the base end and place the celery in a glass of clean, cold, water. The stalks will drink up the water and become very firm. You can then use the newly hydrated stalks for cooking or just to munch on as a quick and healthy snack.
Braised Celery, Mushrooms, and Leeks
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 leek, cleaned and sliced thinly
6 ounces button mushrooms, halved, or quartered if large
5-6 celery stalks, strings of the celery peeled (optional), cut into 1” pieces
2 tablespoons Vermouth
2-4 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon butter
salt & pepper
chili flakes (optional)
In a sauté pan over medium heat, add the olive oil then add the sliced leek and sauté for 3-4 minutes or until the leek is starting to wilt. Add the button mushrooms, season with a small pinch of salt, and sauté for 4-5 more minutes or until the mushrooms and leeks begin to brown. Scrape the pan often. Add the celery and sauté for 4-5 more minutes.
Deglaze the pan by adding the Vermouth and scraping the bottom of the pan. Add 2 tablespoons water and add the butter in small amounts over the vegetables. Season with a little more salt, a few grinds of pepper, and a small pinch of chili flakes, if using. If the pan becomes dry, add 1-2 more tablespoons of water and scrape the bottom. Cook for 2-3 minutes or until the celery is tender.
5-6 celery stalks, cut into ½” pieces
1 medium apple, Granny Smith preferably, cored and cut into ½” pieces
1/4 cup whole fat yogurt
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup toasted walnuts
2 tablespoons tarragon, finely chopped
2 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped
salt & pepper
whole butter lettuce leaves, or other lettuce
Optional: 1/2 cup chopped cooked chicken or turkey (not deli meat)
In a medium bowl, add the celery, apple, and lemon juice, stir. Add the yogurt, mayonnaise, tarragon, and parsley; stir to combine. Add the walnuts and season with a few pinches of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Add the chopped cooked chicken or turkey if using.
To serve, place a whole lettuce leaf on a plate and scoop a generous portion of the apple and celery salad on top.
Mean Green Juice
4 – 5 celery stalks
3 – 4 collard green leaves* (alternately use, kale or chard)
parsley, small bunch
Alternate the celery and cucumber with the collard green leaves and parsley in a high power juicer. Drink immediately.
*Use 8-10 ribs instead of using the whole leaves. Reserve the leaves for sautéing and cooking.