Root treatment

Celery and celery root are distant cousins with common culinary functions.

celery root 88 (photo credit: )
celery root 88
(photo credit: )
Celery and celery root are related vegetables but cooks are divided on the question of which one they prefer. Rib or stalk celery is much more widely used by Americans, while Europeans prefer celery root (also called celeriac). Growing up in the US, I ate celery the way most Americans did - plain as celery sticks or filled with cream cheese or egg or chicken salads. I never encountered celery root, which is rare to this day at American markets. I came across celery root only when I moved to Israel, and learned from my neighbors that it's good for flavoring meat soups and could also be used in salads. In France celery root seemed even more popular than in Israel, perhaps because the roots grew much bigger in the cold climate. People especially like making it into a salad called celeris remoulade, with mayonnaise and mustard, which appears on a lot of restaurant menus. In Paris I found rib celery widely available too; chefs like it for flavoring sauces, usually combined with onion and carrots, or for braising and serving as a hot side dish. At a Parisian market, another shopper was amazed that I asked the vendor to cut off the leaves. 'The leaves are the best part!' she exclaimed, shaking her head as if to say 'What do those Americans know?' She had a point; for seasoning soups and stew, the leaves do add plenty of flavor. Actually, both kinds of celery have the same parts but over the years they were bred to give different results. Rib celery, prized for its broad, tender stems, has a root too, which tastes a bit like a mild celery root but is very small. When I'm making soup, I usually slice it and add it. Celery root has stalks but they are too thin and tough to use in salads; they add flavor to soups, however, and can be removed at serving time. When making salad from either kind of celery, prepare it carefully. Rib celery can be stringy and if it is, it should be peeled with a vegetable peeler, then cut in thin slices. It's even more important to thoroughly peel celery root, no matter how you're using it, because its peel is tough and fibrous and can be full of dirt. You need to scrub the vegetable thoroughly, cut off the peel with a knife, then rinse the peeled vegetable. STEWED CHICKEN WITH CELERY, POTATOES, CUMIN AND FRESH CORIANDER A Yemenite relative of my husband's showed me how she prepares this dish, in which celery ribs are used not just as a flavoring, but as a vegetable in its own right. The celery, along with the cumin and coriander, lend flavor to the sauce for the chicken and the potatoes. The chicken is browned slowly with the spices so they add color and flavor to the oil but don't burn. Wash your hands right after rubbing the chicken with the spices, so your fingers won't be colored orange from the turmeric. Makes 4 servings 2 1/2 tsp. ground cumin 1/2 tsp. turmeric 1.4 kg chicken pieces salt and freshly ground pepper 6 large celery stalks 550 to 600 gr. boiling potatoes 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil 1 1/4 cups water 2 to 3 tsp. chopped fresh coriander (cilantro) or parsley Mix cumin and turmeric. Season chicken with salt, pepper, and spice mixture. Let stand while preparing vegetables. Peel and halve celery stalks and cut in 7.5-cm. lengths. Peel potatoes and cut in 1-cm. slices. Heat oil in a large stew pan over medium heat and lightly brown chicken pieces in batches, taking about 7 minutes per batch. Remove to a plate. Add potato slices and saute lightly, stirring, 2 minutes. Add celery and stir. Return chicken to pan, with any juices from plate, making sure leg pieces are at bottom of pan. Add water and bring to simmer. Cover and cook over low heat, turning pieces over once or twice and pushing potatoes into liquid, about 45 minutes, or until chicken pieces are tender. Remove chicken. Continue simmering vegetables for 5 minutes or until tender. If desired, remove vegetables carefully and boil juices briefly to reduce; then return ingredients to pan and reheat gently. Stir in half the coriander. Taste and adjust seasoning. Sprinkle chicken with remaining coriander when serving. CELERY ROOT AND CARROT SALAD WITH APPLES AND WALNUTS Grating celery root is the best way to prepare it for salad so it will be tender; once grated, it should be tossed with dressing right away, so it won't discolor. Like carrot, it is easily shredded with the coarse grating blade of a food processor. Combined with apples, nuts and a light sweet and sour dressing, the vegetables make a light pretty winter appetizer and a good accompaniment for sandwiches or cold cuts. Makes 4 servings 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil 2 tsp. sugar 2 Tbsp. strained fresh lemon juice salt and freshly ground pepper 2 large carrots (about 350 grams), peeled 350 grams celery root 1 medium-sized tart apple 1/4 cup diced walnuts 8 walnut halves (for garnish) In small bowl mix oil, sugar, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Shred carrots using coarse grating blade of food processor; or grate by hand on large holes of grater. Cut off gnarled parts of celery root. Peel root thoroughly and rinse it. Shred like carrots. You will need about 2 1/2 to 3 cups of each shredded vegetable. Mix shredded celery root and carrot in large bowl. Add dressing and toss. Peel apple and cut in 6-mm. dice. Add to salad and toss. Taste and adjust seasoning. Mix in diced walnuts. Serve garnished with walnut halves. Faye Levy's new book is Healthy Cooking for the Jewish Home (Morrow).