From any angle it looks like “strange fruit”. It’s actually a vegetable. Still, it looks weird and certainly won’t win any vegetable beauty contest. Frankly, it looks like something the Star Wars props team tried to fashion into an alien character’s head but gave up midway. Recently I heard a random comment from someone that their Christmas wouldn’t be complete without Celery Root Salad, and with Christmas just round the corner I thought it a good time to write about this unfortunate-looking vegetable.
The fortunate thing celery root has going for it is that it tastes a lot better than it looks: it has a mild, celery-like flavour with a starchy-potato-ish texture. So, it manages to retain a kind of crispness of celery taste but without the strong “greenness”, combined with a substantial yet mild creaminess – a bit of a surprise for the taste buds, but a winner for many people who’ve eaten it.
In terms of nutritional content, celery root is an excellent vegetable to eat. It’s particularly high in vitamins K, C and B6, and it also contains pantothenic acid (B5), niacin (B3), riboflavin (B2) and thiamine (B1). In mineral content, phosphorus leads the count, followed by manganese, sodium, potassium, magnesium, iron, calcium and zinc. By weight, it’s nearly 10% carbohydrates and 2% dietary fibre, with water, some protein, sugar and a bit of fat content.
When preparing celery root to be used, it has to be thoroughly cleaned and peeled. Take off all the skin – this means using a peeler aggressively, and further using a knife to cut off any hairy, brown stuff remaining – until all that’s left is the creamy, solid flesh inside. Once readied, this root vegetable is actually quite versatile.
Celery root is most often shredded and cooked as the simple, straight-up favourite: celery root salad, or celeriac remoulade. Put the shredded celery root in a pot of water, bring to a boil, quickly remove (avoid overcooking it), drain, rinse in cold water, pat as dry as possible with kitchen towels, and fold into a mustard-mayonnaise dressing with a sprinkle of lemon juice, chopped parsley, pepper and salt. For a crunchier version, use raw shredded celery root instead – yes, it can be eaten raw too, so versatile! – to get a more coleslaw-like result. Either way, it’s delicious and nutritious, and a classic winter (Christmas!) salad that can be enjoyed on its own or as an accompaniment to meat or seafood dishes. In fact, celery root salad is such a homemade favourite that there’ll surely many varying recipes, some handed down from one generation to the next, or easily found on the internet. So just get hold of one, try it, and tweak the recipe along the way to your liking – no definitely-must-be-this-or-that, it’s one of those things that’s great like that!
Another way to enjoy celery root is to cut it into one-inch thick steak slices and oven bake (pre-heat to 400 degrees). First, season with salt and pepper, and pan-fry each side at medium-high for a few minutes until golden brown. Then transfer the fried celery root steaks to the oven to roast for another eight to nine minutes. You’ll have celery root steaks – full of substance and flavour – that you can dribble your favourtie salsa onto, or to use as a base ingredient to which other vegetables, relishes or carbohydrates can be added to make a complete and respectable dish.
Think of winter – or even just the wetter, colder December month here in Singapore – and cravings tend toward comfort foods, perhaps something like cream of celery root soup? Celery root inherently has a starchy-potato characteristic, so it’s perfect for making a comforting, creamy soup. Boil celery root in a pot of water until it’s tender (on a medium heat this could take 30-40 minutes depending on the size of the root). It you wanted a combined soup, then at this stage boil carrots, or potatoes, etc together with the celery root. Once tender, remove the root and let cool, then puree in a blender. During the blending process, you can add cream, coriander, ginger, honey, etc to your liking, or just leave it plain and season with salt and pepper when serving.
Celery root is quite a big item, so you might have some left over after using what you need for your main dish. Not a problem – dice up whatever left over celery root there is, and sautee with sliced bacon (or other bits of left over meat), and other cut-up vegetables like sweet potatoes, brocolli, carrots, etc. This can be a breakfast dish, or an anytime-snack, or even a side dish to the main meal that you’ve prepared so that you can use the celery root all at one go.
Other ideas to use and enjoy celery root are in stews either in place of or together with potatoes, or adding it to mashed potatoes for a twist, or as a one-pot-meal together with other root vegetables like carrots, potatoes, onions and pork shoulder chunks for a sumptuous and hearty pork stew – eaten together with a steaming bowl of rice… heavenly!
For a vegetable that’s not as commonly bought as potatoes or carrots, celery root is not only versatile cooked or raw, it’s also delicious and nutritious. For us at Sofresh, it makes sense that as the end of the year rolls in, orders for this strange looking vegetable have increased as cruise ships start preparing to celebrate Christmas with a winter menu onboard.
As the saying goes, true beauty is not skin-deep but lies within – and so it seems to be with celery root. It’s not pretty, but we’re certainly rooting for it! Till the next one, happy and healthy eating everyone!