Celery isn’t sexy.
I get that. Not many people, when asked “What would you like for dinner?” respond “I don’t care, as long as it has celery.”
But maybe that should change. Celery is a vegetable whose time has come. It is more — far more — than a mere garnish for a bloody mary or a convenient conveyance for hummus.
Celery is just begging to be used in vibrant and exciting ways. And I don’t mean stuffing it with peanut butter.
Not that there is anything wrong with celery with peanut butter. I think we can all agree that celery with peanut butter is the best possible way to eat celery, and maybe peanut butter. It is culinary perfection.
But it is my happy duty to look for other applications of celery that are (nearly) just as stunning, and I found some truly great ones.
Take, for instance, celery, blue cheese and hazelnut salad. Already, that sounds better than an ordinary celery dish, right?
It gets better: The hazelnuts are toasted and then glazed with butter, maple syrup and just a pinch of heat from cayenne pepper. Chopped dates add a pop of chewy sweetness, and the dressing is a simple mixture of olive oil, lemon zest and lemon juice.
But all of these accouterments are mere frills, a flamboyant gilding of the lily. The real star of this dish is the combination of celery and blue cheese. Celery goes with blue cheese like Christmas goes with presents.
Next, I used celery to make a dish that I hadn’t had in so long I had completely forgotten about it: cream of celery soup.
Why has this extraordinary dish fallen out of favor? Celery goes with stock and cream every bit as well as mushrooms do. A bit of potato adds depth to the mix, and an onion brings the flavor into focus.
But what really makes it stand out is a hefty portion of dill, which acts as a brilliant, sharp counterpoint to the earthy celery.
Celery is braised in many parts of the world, and it is high time we did it more here, too.
It is almost impossibly easy to make, yet the results are spectacular. As a side dish, it would enliven any kind of meal.
Although it is inspired by Asian cooking, celery stir-fry is also universal in its appeal. And it is actually easier to make than the braised celery.
This dish was a revelation: I had never realized just how well celery is a natural match for soy sauce.
I made one last dish, a drink that is a favorite at New York delicatessens: celery soda.
I had never actually had celery soda before. I’d had two responses to the idea every time I saw it at the deli — “ick” and “why?” But I knew that it was hugely popular, especially as an accompaniment to corned beef sandwiches or pastrami.
Now that I’ve made it, I totally get the appeal. I think it is the unexpected flavors that make it shine — black peppercorns for a hint of a bite that is necessary to tame the celery and crushed cardamom pods for a spicy, herbal undertone.
The juice of a lemon tempers the sweetness, making it a lovely beverage for adults. It’s the kind of drink that makes you realize that celery isn’t blah — it’s kind of great.
CELERY, BLUE CHEESE AND HAZELNUT SALAD
6 ounces good-quality blue cheese
3/4 cup hazelnuts
2-3 heads celery, tops removed
1 tablespoon butter
Pinch cayenne pepper
3 tablespoons maple syrup
1/4 cup olive oil (or hazelnut oil, if you have it)
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/4 cup lemon juice
Handful of chopped dates (or dried cherries or dried cranberries)
Allow the cheese to come to room temperature. Meanwhile, roast the hazelnuts on a rimmed baking sheet in a 300-degree oven for 30 minutes.
Use a vegetable peeler to peel away the tough outer strings of the celery. Slice the celery ribs on the diagonal into 1/4-inch-thick slices.
Remove hazelnuts from oven, and let cool a few minutes. Rub together in a clean dish towel to remove as much of the dark outer skin as you can.
Melt the butter in a small skillet; add pinch of cayenne and salt. Add the hazelnuts to the pan, and cook on low heat for a few minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, and stir in the syrup. Leave in pan to cool.
In a small jar, mix together the oil, zest and juice. Add salt and black pepper to taste. Shake to combine.
To assemble, layer a shallow platter or dish first with the celery, then dates, then crumble the blue cheese over it and sprinkle with hazelnuts (you may have to use a wooden spoon to scrape them out of the pan). Just before serving, pour dressing over top.
Nutrition information per serving: 636 calories; 45 g fat; 13 g saturated fat; 1,094 mg cholesterol; 14 g protein; 50 g carbohydrate; 38 g sugar; 4 g fiber; 1,094 mg sodium; 298 mg calcium.
— Recipe by Simply Recipes
CREAM OF CELERY SOUP
1 head celery, ribs chopped, leaves reserved
1 large waxy potato, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
4 tablespoons ( 1/2 stick) butter
3 cups chicken broth
Scant 1/4 cup fresh dill
1/2 cup heavy cream
Olive oil for serving
Combine the celery, potato, onion and butter in a large saucepan over medium heat; season with salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until onion is tender, 8-10 minutes. Add the broth; simmer until potatoes are tender, 8-10 minutes.
Purée in a blender with the dill. Strain. Stir in the cream. To serve, top with reserved celery leaves and a light drizzle of oil.
Nutrition information per serving: 245 calories, 18 g fat, 10 g saturated fat, 43 mg cholesterol, 5 g protein, 17 g carbohydrate, 4 g sugar, 4 g fiber, 454 mg sodium, 104 mg calcium.
— Adapted from Bon Appetit
8 ribs of celery, 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 the butter in a 10-inch sauté pan over medium heat. Once melted, add the celery, salt and pepper, and cook for 5 minutes, until just beginning to soften slightly.
Add the beef broth, and stir to combine. Cover, and reduce the heat to low. Cook until the celery is tender but not mushy, approximately 5 minutes.
Uncover, and allow the 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 the reserved leaves.
Nutrition information per serving: 47 calories, 3 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 8 mg cholesterol, 1 g protein, 4 g carbohydrate, 2 g sugar, 2 g fiber, 582 mg sodium, 55 mg calcium.
— Recipe by Alton Brown via Food Network
2 tablespoons canola oil or other cooking oil
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper or 3 small dried chile peppers, broken in half
4 cups julienned celery, cut into 2-inch pieces
1-2 tablespoons soy sauce, to taste
A few drops of dark sesame oil (optional)
Heat the oil and pepper flakes in a wok or frying pan over high heat until fragrant, about 60-90 seconds. Add the celery, and stir-fry for 3 minutes. Add the soy sauce, and stir-fry 1 minute more.
Remove from heat, and add the sesame oil, if desired. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Nutrition information per serving: 61 calories, 6 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 1 g protein, 2 g carbohydrate, 1 g sugar, 1 g fiber, 222 mg sodium, 28 mg calcium.
— Recipe by Simply Recipes
7-8 large ribs of celery, about 3/4 pound, plus inner ribs for garnish
1 large lemon
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
8 green cardamom pods
11/4 cups water
1 cup granulated sugar
2 quarts soda water
Clean and thinly slice the celery. It should measure about 3 cups when firmly packed into a measuring cup. Set aside.
Remove the zest in strips from half of the lemon. Lightly crush the peppercorns and cardamom pods. Set aside.
Bring the water and sugar to a boil in a medium saucepan. Once it reaches a boil, add the sliced celery and return it to a boil for about 1 minute. Stir once or twice in the process. Remove from heat.
Add the zest, pepper and cardamom to the celery mixture. Stir to combine, then cover the pan and allow to cool to room temperature.
Strain the celery syrup through a fine mesh strainer into a jar or other suitable storage container. Feel free to nibble on the candied celery, if you like. Juice the lemon, and add it to the syrup. Stir to combine. Store covered in the refrigerator until ready to use.
To serve, add 1/4 cup syrup to a glass. Add 1 cup of soda water, and top with ice. Garnish with a tender inner celery rib, if desired.
Nutrition information per serving: 290 calories, 1 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 1 g protein, 74 g carbohydrate, 72 g sugar, 1 g fiber, 76 mg sodium, 32 mg calcium.
— Adapted from a recipe by Food52