Knobbly celeriac may not be the most beautiful produce on display in your greengrocer, even in comparison with other root vegetables. Yet, what this ugly duckling lacks in looks, it more than makes up for in flavour, versatility and character.
Newcomers to this carbuncled, whiskery looking vegetable often feel rather daunted by it, and shift their gaze to something more attractive… and predictable. But failing to forge even a fleeting association with a celeriac would be a big mistake. Indeed, should you spot some in the market, snap them up immediately.
There once was an ugly duckling…
If you don’t know already, this vegetable maybe rather unappealing on the outside but it has the alter ego of a beautiful swan – at least in terms of its flavour – on the inside. An incredibly versatile vegetable, a celeriac can with a little love and care, present itself as a winter comfort food, a characterful continental salad or a silky smooth, refined and very elegant soup.
With the texture of parsnip and a flavour somewhere between parsley and celery (the stalks are rather like droopy celery), this bulbous beauty can be transformed into a range of delicious dishes.
The stalks may look like celery – they even taste like celery – but they are usually much tougher than the stuff on sale in European supermarkets.
In fact, although celery root and celery are members of the same family of vegetables, it is not the root of the vegetable called celery. Celeriac is cultivated for its root, not for its stalks or leaves.
This vegetable is a very nutritious and healthy vegetable too, packed full of vitamins and other goodies.
Buying and storing celeriac
Always buy celeriac with a heavy, firm hypocotyl (that’s the scientific name for the root by the way) and with a clump of green celery-like shoots sprouting from the top. Get more than you think you’ll need – the reason for this will become clear later. When you get home cut the stalks from the root and store separately in the fridge. They last longer that way but are best used within a week.
The peeling challenge
The challenge for most people is how to peel and prep this vegetable without losing more than you started out with in the first place…
Celeriac is tricky to peel because it’s so knobby.
If you haven’t done so already, cut off the leaves and stalks. Wash the root thoroughly, giving it a good scrub with a soft brush, if you have one to hand.
Now it’s ready for the next stage…
The big reveal
The idea is to remove the whiskery, knobbly exterior just as far as the light flesh. Using a very sharp paring knife cut a slice off the root end. Place the celeriac on a chopping board and hold the stem end with one hand and remove the skin with your sharp knife, cutting from top to bottom. Work your way around the root, trying to remove as little of the peel as possible and leaving as much of the body of the celeriac intact. It is inevitable that you will lose some of the white flesh, so bear in mind that you will need more of it to compensate.
Prepare the peeled celeriac for your recipe. Once cut it will oxidize (discolour) rapidly, so put the prepped celeriac in water with lemon juice or vinegar until you’re ready to cook it.
Kereviz – Zeytinyağlı yemek
In Turkey, where this winter vegetable is called kereviz, it is used in traditional Aegean cooking with olive oil (zeytinyağlı) and sometimes also with orange juice; two ingredients for which western Turkey is particularly famous.
Özlem’s Turkish Table has an excellent recipe for celeriac cooked with olive oil, ideal for a meze or an accompaniment to a meal.
Celeriac with orange juice adds a slightly different buy no less delicious flavour.
But its charm and versatility doesn’t stop there…
Jamie Oliver suggests smashed celeriac to accompany roasts – here is his recipe.
Celeriac lends itself to a variety of soups too,
This recipe for celeriac soup from Anna Jones uses hazel nuts and sage, both of which are famous Turkish ingredients.
While this soup with lemon zest and lemon infused oil, from food and style, would grace the most elegant dinner table.
Celeriac remoulade is probably the best known dish that uses raw celeriac… We particularly like this recipe from the Bournemouth restaurant, West Beach.
But this celeriac – cole-slaw combination from Marmaduke Scarlet’s blog is also an unusual and flavoursome addition to a meal.
If you thought that was all the celeriac could do, here are some other wonderful recipes from Ballymaloe in Country Cork, Ireland.
Don’t forget the stalks…
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall suggests using the cleaned peelings and stalks for soups and stocks. They are usually a bit tough to eat raw – although you may be lucky. They can also be used in stir-fries but sparingly as the flavour is very strong. The leaves are a bit like a cross between parsley and lovage. Use them as a garnish or for flavour.
Happy cooking and great eating!