This is a joke, right? Celery, possibly the most under-appreciated vegetable, deserves some recognition. So much so that it’s the subject of a hilarious skit, The Celery Incident in the new season of Portlandia (fans, set up your DVR because it started this week). Celery has gotten more acclaim as a color than a vegetable. Even the ugly duckling, celeriac, has become the foodie’s darling with practically the same flavor and minus the crunch. I’ll always root for the underdog, so I decided to explore celery and try some recipes that give it a starring role.
Ever use celery leaves? Up until now, I mainly used them to flavor homemade broth, other than that, they often sadly ended up in the compost. Never again. Homemade celery salt is so simple to make and is an excellent use of the entire plant. Now I find myself peering inside the stalks at the grocery store to make sure I’ve got plenty of leaves. This recipe, from 101 Cookbooks, opened my mind to all kinds of herb salt.
Homemade Celery Salt
Ingredients: Leaves from one bunch of celery/ Sea salt, I used Maldon.
Directions: Pull all the celery leaves (green and yellow) from the stalks, wash and dry/ Place on baking sheet and bake in 350 oven for 5-7 minutes/ Let leaves dry on pan, then crumble into small pieces, discarding any that aren’t completely dry/ Mix with an equal amount of sea salt — mine was about 2 teaspoons of each, leaves and salt.
Sprinkle on baked potatoes, any egg dish, corn on the cob, in a Bloody Mary, you name it.
I’m always on the look out for unusual fixings for mocktails and saw this recipe from Food52 for a savory celery simple syrup. Mixed with lemon juice and sparkling water, it makes a lovely refreshing drink. Substitute the sparkling water with tonic, add a dash of bitters and you won’t even miss the booze. It’s subtle complexity is a thing of beauty, just as it is.
Homemade Celery Soda
Ingredients: 7-8 stalks celery, washed and thinly sliced (about 3 cups)/ 1 T black peppercorns, lightly crushed/ 8 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed/ 3/4 cup superfine sugar/ 1 1/4 cup water/ 1 large lemon, zest in strips, then juiced/ seltzer water/ Inner celery leaves and stalks for garnish.
Directions: Bring water and sugar to a boil in medium saucepan, stirring to dissolve sugar/ Add sliced celery and return to boil for a minute or two/ Remove from heat and add lemon zest, peppercorns and cardamon to the celery mixture/ Stir to combine, cover pan and let it cool to room temperature/ Strain celery simple syrup through fine mesh strainer into a jar/ Add juice of lemon to the syrup, stir to combine/ Pour 2-4 ounces simple syrup over ice in glass/ Top off with sparkling water and garnish with celery stalk.
So here’s to celery!! It may not be the most popular or even the prettiest vegetable, but it certainly deserves a lifetime achievement award. It’s always been there on every plate of raw vegetables with dip, in every batch of homemade broth and stock, sauteed with onions and carrots as the basis for sauces and soups the world over. Since it’s available in practically every grocery store throughout the US, it’s easy to find but also easy to overlook. Just give it a chance to shine.