Sunday, October 31, 2010

Meatless Monday Adventures: The Once Intimidating Celeriac

At this time of year, as the fresh local produce familiar to me begins to disappear, I do my best to try new things. My culinary discovery for this week is Celeriac (A. graveolens variety rapaceum), also known as Celery Root (or Knob Celery, or Turnip-rooted Celery).

This very strange looking root is actually a close relative of celery (A. graveolens variety dulce). It has only recently begun to appear at larger farmers’ markets and in the produce aisle of stores like Whole Foods. Celeriac can be eaten cooked or raw. With its very strong celery-like taste, celeriac is an excellent base for a slaw-like salad and a flavorful addition to soups and stews.

Celeriac is a good source of fiber, potassium, magnesium, manganese, and vitamin B6. It is also a very good source of vitamin C and phosphorous. Celeriac has considerably fewer calories than potatoes, and is only 5-6% starch by weight. It can be cooked and mashed as a tasty alternative for those who are cutting calories or have dietary restrictions due to diabetes.

Through Google Books I uncovered a classic volume, Cyclopedia of American Horticulture, published in 1901. Here I discovered that celeriac’s history as a garden vegetable can be traced back to the middle of the seventeenth century. Although little known in the US at that time, it was much prized in Europe where some 15-20 varieties were mentioned in the current seed catalogues. Celeriac’s principal use was listed as a flavoring for soups and stews, but the entry also made reference to boiled celeriac served with white sauce, to celeriac salad, and to an extract with medicinal properties. If you are interested in growing your own, this volume also offers plenty of horticultural advice. 

But back to my experiment. Following the recommendation of every source I could find, I selected and purchased a root heavy for its size, and weighing between 3/4 and 1 lb. In order to prepare it for cooking, I cut off a slice from each end and then trimmed off the skin with a paring knife. I worked quickly to prevent the discoloration to which a naked celery root is prone.

Next time I will add some celery root with carrots, and maybe parsnips, to my Split Pea Soup. But this time I opted for something simple. I diced my root and boiled it along with about 2 lbs. of russet potatoes until they were tender, and then I drained and mashed the lot of them with milk, butter, pepper and just a bit of freshly grated parmesan cheese. They were delicious: the celeriac imparted a nice celery flavor. It’s a good thing the dish was lower in calories than a traditional potato mash, because the two of us ended up with very few leftovers.

I should say that I have since learned that many recipes advise cooking the potatoes and the celeriac separately because the celery root cooks quicker. I did not find this a problem, and I had one less dirty pan this way.

My next celeriac experiment may well be Jamie Oliver’s Celeriac Gratin. I will follow the directions explicitly (once I convert them to American measurements), and I’ll let you know how the dish turns out. This Australian WeightWatchers site also has quite a few delicious-sounding recipes.

Happy experimenting. 

I often blog on food or food issues on Monday in support of Meatless Monday, one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal health and the health of our planet.

No comments:

Post a Comment