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More Than A Diet Food: Rethinking Celery With 3 Delicious Recipes05:37
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Celery Gratin. (Kathy Gunst)
Celery Gratin. (Kathy Gunst)

Celery is like a middle child: It's dependable, frequently ignored and most often seriously undervalued. It’s the one vegetable that you can almost always find in the grocery store.

Celery is crisp, green, crunchy and flavorful. It’s inexpensive and gets relegated to the lowly status of “diet food.” Try to recall the last time you heard someone say, “I just ate the best stalk of celery!"

It’s time to rethink celery. It is a highly adaptable vegetable and can be used as the base of a soup, salad, sauce or relish. It’s a distinctive part of a Bloody Mary and the only “healthy” element to a plate of Buffalo Chicken Wings. Celery mixes well with fresh herbs, cheese, fresh fruit and salads. It can be added to stir fries, braised, made into a creamy gratin, juiced, dunked into salsa and dips. The celery cavity can be filled with peanut butter and raisins (Ants on a Log, anyone?) or filled with cream cheese and olives.

It’s almost impossible to imagine stuffing, tuna fish, egg salad or potato salad without celery. What would sandwiches look like without a requisite, lonely stalk of celery at its side?

Celery, mid-peel. (Kathy Gunst)
Celery, mid-peel. (Kathy Gunst)

To peel or not to peel

Peeling celery sounds like a fussy chef trick, right? Well, not always. The outer stalks, which tend to be a darker green, can be stringier and more fibrous and can benefit from a quick peel. Simply use a vegetable peeler to remove the outermost layer. You’ll know it’s time to stop when the celery color gets paler.

Do you need to peel celery? No. Try it and see if you like the difference. Save peelings and the celery root to add to vegetable and meat stocks.

Can I eat the celery leaves?

Absolutely! Celery leaves, which grow at the top of the stalks, are full of flavor and can be used like parsley to garnish dishes, add flavor to sauces and more. Don’t throw them out!

Health benefits of celery

Celery is low in saturated fat and very low in cholesterol. It can lower your blood pressure and is a good source of Vitamin C, fiber, potassium, Vitamin B6, iron and calcium. It is a great antioxidant and is said to reduce inflammation and help digestion.

And celery has virtually no calories. Some say that the mere 7 to 10 calories per stalk is burned up when you chew it (Why aren’t more foods like that?). But, according to the Mayo Clinic, there are no proven scientific studies showing that celery is a negative calorie food. Surprisingly, the vegetable is said to be high in sodium so be aware if you’re on a low sodium diet.

Shopping for celery

Look for bunches of celery that are tightly formed with firm, green stalks and a healthy head of celery leaves at the top. The stalks should snap off when separated and not bend or wilt. Celery will keep stored in the vegetable drawer of your refrigerator for at least a week. When celery begins to turn yellow or look wilted it can still be used to flavor stocks but will have lost all its crunch.

Celery, Shaved Fennel And Parmesan Salad With Lemon-Scallion Dressing

Preparation for Kathy Gunst's Selery, Shaved Fennel And Parmesan Salad With Lemon-Scallion Dressing. (Kathy Gunst)
Preparation for Kathy Gunst's Selery, Shaved Fennel And Parmesan Salad With Lemon-Scallion Dressing. (Kathy Gunst)

Light, refreshing and colorful, this winter salad has crunch, vibrancy and a ton of flavor. Celery stalks are lightly peeled and chopped on the diagonal and tossed with very thin slices of fresh fennel and shavings of nutty Parmesan cheese. You can add all kinds of other ingredients to this simple salad, like thin slices of peeled pear or apple or toasted nuts.

Serves 2 to 4.

Ingredients

  • 4 stalks celery, lightly peeled and cut on the diagonal into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 6 ounces fennel, one small bulb or half a large bulb, cored and very thinly sliced
  • About 1/4 cup shaved Parmesan cheese (use a wide vegetable peeler and shave thin slices from a 1/2 to 1 pound chunk of Parmesan)
  • 1 scallion, very thinly chopped, white and green sections
  • 1 tablespoon very finely chopped fennel fronds (the green, dill-like top of a fresh fennel bulb)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon lemon or Meyer lemon juice, or white wine vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

Instructions

  1. Arrange the celery, fennel and cheese on a small serving plate or bowl. Sprinkle with the scallions, fennel fronds, salt, pepper, lemon juice and olive oil. Don’t dress the salad more than an hour ahead of time.

Double Celery Soup

Double celery soup. (Kathy Gunst)
Double celery soup. (Kathy Gunst)

Celery root (also called celeriac) and fresh celery stalks are sautéed with leeks (or an onion) and then simmered with vegetable or chicken stock. The creaminess and full flavor of the soup are astonishing considering how few ingredients are used, not to mention that there is no dairy in the soup.

If you want to make a topping: Chopped celery and piquant capers are sautéed for just a few minutes and they add great dimension to the soup. You can also add a drizzle of olive oil or lemon-flavored olive oil.

Serves 4.

Ingredients 

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large or 2 small leeks, 7 ounces, roots trimmed and discarded, leek cut down the middle, cleaned and chopped, or 1 chopped medium onion
  • 1 small celery root (celeriac), about 10 ounces, peeled and chopped
  • 4 to 5 stalks celery with leaves, about 8 ounces, chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 4 cups vegetable or chicken stock (32 ounces), low sodium if using boxed or canned stock.

Optional Celery-Caper Topping

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 celery stalks with leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon drained capers
  • Drizzle olive oil and lemon-flavored olive oil
Celery and celery root. (Kathy Gunst)
Celery and celery root. (Kathy Gunst)

Instructions

  1. In a medium soup pot heat the oil over low heat. Stir in the leek or the onion. Cover and cook for 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the celery root and chopped celery and celery leaves, a touch of salt and pepper and cook 5 minutes uncovered. Increase the heat to high and add the stock; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the celery root and celery feel tender when tested with a small, sharp knife. Remove from the heat and let cool 5 to 10 minutes.
  2. Blend the soup in a blender, food processor, or using an immersion blender until smooth. Taste for seasoning.
  3. To make the topping: heat the oil in a small skillet set over medium heat. Add the celery and cook 2 minutes, stirring. Add the capers and pepper and cook another minute. Spoon a bit of the topping over each bowl of soup and drizzle with olive oil if you like.

Celery Gratin

A gratin is a rich, warming plate of comfort food. Sweet celery is cut into big chunks and topped with milk, cream, and grated cheese and baked until soft. This gratin makes an excellent side dish to any roast, with fish or can be served as a winter main course with a green salad.

Serves 4.

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, very thinly sliced
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound celery, (leaves and core trimmed off and saved for stock), peeled and cut into 2 inch pieces
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 packed cup grated cheese, Parmesan, Romano, Gruyere, sharp cheddar, etc.

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  2. In an 8 to 9-inch size ovenproof skillet, gratin dish, or shallow casserole, heat the oil and butter over low heat. Add the onion, salt and pepper and cook, stirring, for 8 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the celery and more salt and pepper. Sprinkle the flour over the celery and then add the milk and cream. Bake on the middle shelf for 20 minutes. Reduce the oven to 350 and bake another 10 minutes. Remove and sprinkle on the cheese and bake another 15 minutes, or until the gratin is golden brown and the celery feels tender when tested with a small, sharp knife. Serve hot.

This segment aired on January 13, 2021.

Related:

Kathy Gunst Twitter Here & Now Resident Chef
Kathy Gunst is a James Beard Award-winning journalist and the author of 15 cookbooks.

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