Wednesday, May 03, 2023


 Why am I thinking about celery? I don't know but here are some ideas.

Some people like celery. Some find it very uninteresting. And some dislike its characteristic flavor. Stalks of celery rarely appear as the main ingredient in frequently-served American or French recipes. The ingredient is more often in the background of complex dishes; for example, celery contributes flavor to stocks and stews. I often save the leafy tops from a package of celery, freezing them along with the stems of herbs like parsley or green onions and a few nice chicken bones for the stock pot.

Some classics like tuna salad, coleslaw, or Waldorf salad use celery for extra crunch as well as for the added flavor. French dishes like celery remoulade and celery puree use celery root (also called celeriac) which is pictured above. The Larousse Gastronomique, an encyclopedia of French cuisine, offers quite a few celery preparations, though these seem kind of obscure. It can be cooked in butter or stock or served raw with various salad dressings. Many of the specified dishes follow a recipe originally written for some other vegetable (such as artichokes) and say just substitute celery, for example Celery a la Grecque, made with the standard ingredients including olive oil and spices like coriander seeds and cilantro leaves. 

It's strange, but I've never tried Campbell's cream of celery soup, or for that matter any other celery soup -- though that's another classic use for this vegetable. Braised celery (which is simply celery browned in butter and cooked in stock) is another dish I haven't tried, though I intend to try it some time. Of course I am quite familiar with celery included as one of several roast vegetables along with potatoes and carrots, or as a flavor and texture booster in the most commonly-made stuffing for the Thanksgiving turkey. 

A Little History and Botany

Celery is a member of the same family as carrots, parsley, and parsnips, and the name is derived from the Greek word for parsley: the plant originated in Greece and other Mediterranean countries. Celery is a two-year crop: the first year the plants produce the stalks and leaves, while the second year the plant flowers and produces seeds. Celery grows best in areas with cool temperatures and plenty of moisture; that is much of the US and Europe. Although low in calories, it contains vitamins and minerals as well as the characteristic aromatic flavors. 

From the Larousse Gastronomique:

CELERY. CÉLERI- A cultivated form of wild celery.

Used a great deal by the Romans, celery did not come into cultivation until the sixteenth century. In some cases growers have tried to develop the leaves, in others the root.

This plant contains an essential oil, which is highly aromatic. According to the different varieties, either the stems are eaten, elongated by trussing or culture in the dark, or the roots (celeriac). Both are eaten raw, in salad, or cooked.

Although for a lot of people the celery fin turkey stuffing is an essential element of Thanksgiving dinner, the celery plant wouldn't have made it from Europe to the American continent in time for the first Thanksgiving. In fact, celery didn't become popular here until the late 18th century: by 1806, four varieties of celery were being grown in the US. Nowadays, we mainly only see one variety -- this seems to be the way things go, a small number of varieties of vegetables and fruit, or just one, seem to dominate the markets! For more information on the history and cultivation of celery, see  Celery: A Brief History

Asian Dishes with Celery

Some of my Chinese cookbooks feature celery as a central ingredient, often combined with meat or fish. These recipes sound a lot more flavorful than western celery preparations; for example celery with hot peppers and garlic! Two exotic-sounding dishes I found are titled "Squid and Celery" and "Cold Kidney and Celery." These appear in The Chinese Cookbook by Craig Claiborne and Virginia Lee (published in 1976) which I would say was ahead of its time. Fuchsia Dunlop's cookbook Every Grain of Rice (published 2012) also offers several recipes that feature celery. Stir-fried celery with lily bulb and macadamia nuts is most intriguing!

Online searches turn up other interesting Asian recipes, such as several ways to include celery in the famous Korean condiment Kim Chee, and several Vietnamese soup recipes containing celery. I also found a few recipes for Chinese celery, which is a different type of celery than the American/French standard. From The Spruce Eats website:

"Chinese celery is somewhat different from the celery that typically lines most produce shelves in American supermarkets. It has a much stronger flavor than Western celery, and the stalks of Chinese celery are thinner, often with a hollow middle. Although more slender than the celery we use for tuna salad and Bloody Marys, it is recommended that you gently crush the celery stalks before adding to a recipe, which will result in better texture and more flavor. Chinese celery is rarely eaten raw as it is pungent and somewhat peppery; when cooked, however, it becomes sweet and mellow with a pleasant, soft texture."

Celery Remoulade Right Now!

The knob of celery root pictured at the beginning of this post has now become a dish of celery remoulade, which is julienned celery root mixed with mayonnaise, lemon juice, and other flavorings. I served it on lettuce leaves garnished with capers, a lemon wedge, and red pepper, along with some cottage cheese, as illustrated. This would definitely not be the way I would expect to see it in France!

How might this dish be served in France? Celery remoulade or alternatively, celery root in a vinaigrette sauce, often appears in the standard appetizer called crudités.  We often saw this on menus in small, modest restaurants in France: celery root, shredded carrots, sliced tomatoes, julienned beetroot or other similar vegetables in vinaigrette. The term crudités can designate any fresh vegetables. In the US now it refers to just about any snack-like vegetable platter or if you are really sophisticated, could mean vegetables arranged on a board

As an aside, it's amusing to recall that word crudités became an issue in a recent election to the US Senate, when one candidate (whom I prefer to forget) seemed snobbish for employing the French word instead of English. The other candidate, John Fetterman, tweeted: "In PA we call this a veggie tray." As you no doubt know, Fetterman won the election -- and served a veggie tray at his victory party.

Blog post and photos © 2023 mae sander


My name is Erika. said...

I think celery is definitely underrated. Did you read anything about how organic celery can contain toxic chemicals (produced by the plant to protect itself from natural invading insects)? I'm trying to remember what I'd read about that, and even the title of the book I read it in. Maybe it wasn't even celery I'm remembering as it was long time ago I read the book.When the title comes to me I'll link it up. hugs-Erika

Jenn Jilks said...

I haven't used celery in ages! I guess it has to come from a distance this season. Good research!

eileeninmd said...

Celery is not a favorite of mine. I did always add it to the dressing for Thanksgiving dinner. Take care, enjoy your day!

Jeanie said...

This is a fun post, Mae! I'm a fan of celery so extra fun -- and I learned something too!

Jeanie said...

PS -- It was Dr. Oz.

Mae Travels said...

@Jeanie -- I think Dr.Oz should be forgotten, so I didn't say his ignominious name!

anno said...

What a great post! I love celery. And I have many happy memories of the veggie trays that accompanied every dinner when I was growing up -- the only way we kids would eat any vegetables at all -- and they always included celery sticks. Sometimes I still make celery sticks with peanut butter and currants for a snack.

As for celery root, it is amazing, and the remoulade you made looks terrific. It is also good cooked in chicken broth, then pureed with arugula, and then served with garnishes of fried prosciutto and croutons. Thanks for the history & the cultural notes, too!

Claudia said...

Interesting post. Celery is one of those vegetables I always have on hand, as it can be used in so many ways. If I haven't got the energy or time, it makes a quick salad - celery sticks on the side. Also, unfortunately it doesn't grow well here in Hawaii.

Anne in the kitchen said...

I actually like celery. I do best when I buy a stalk, clean and get the strings off, and keep it in a glass of water in the fridge for a quick bite during the day, either to be eaten as is or filled with pimento cheese or olive spread.

Iris Flavia said...

Ingo loves celery. I can´t even stand the smell... He uses it for soups only, though.
Interesting post, but I fear celery and I won´t become friends ;-)

Bleubeard and Elizabeth said...

Celery is one of my go to veggies when I make soup. I start by browning it with onions and garlic. I enjoyed this post because I had never seen the root before.