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Monday, March 5, 2012

Be a Stalker

Celery in the garden.
Celery.  How does that make you feel?  Nothing too exciting, huh?  It's not like I said lobster or chocolate or even tomato.  But come on...the humble crunchy celery stalk should get a little bit of lovin'.

Without this member of the parsley and fennel family, Louisiana-style cooking wouldn't have the "Holy Trinity" (celery, onion and bell pepper) and French cooking's mirepoix would only be onion and carrot.  These traditional flavorings are the basis for many classic dishes.

In ancient times, the celery eaten was a wild variety--called "smallage"--much different from the veggie we know today.  It is smaller and with a very strong, somewhat bitter taste.  Many cultures (ancient China, for example) used wild celery for medicinal reasons.

Modern day celery, while not used as medicine, has plenty of health benefits.  It is high in dietary fiber and contains a number of cancer-fighting compounds.  It also gives some Vitamin A, C and the Bs, potassium, folic acid, calcium and much more. 

Celery seeds.
Some people are extremely allergic to celery.  Like some with peanut allergies, those with celery allergies can go into anaphylactic shock if they ingest celery or even come in contact with it. 

The stalk of the celery isn't the only edible part of the plant.  Celery root (or celariac) is an ugly, but tasty root that can be used in a number of different applications.  It can be used in many of the same ways as potatoes.  I really enjoy the crunchiness and mild celery flavor of raw celery root.  Really tasty with a nice dip. 

Celery leaves are more strongly flavored than the stalks and can be used in salads or to help to flavor stocks and soups.

Celery seeds are a great source of calcium and can be used as a spice to flavor many different recipes.  To me, egg salad isn't egg salad without a nice sprinkling of celery seed.

Celery root (celeriac).
So go ahead--go to your fridge right now and pull open that produce drawer.  Pull out that overlooked bag of celery and thank it for being such a healthy and essential part of our cuisine.  Or just rip off a stalk, smear some peanut butter on it and enjoy!  (Just don't go into anaphylactic shock!)

Oh, by the way, if you have droopy celery stalks, don't despair, it can be fixed.  Just cut off the bottom of the celery, put it in a container with clean water and after some time in the fridge, it'll be crisp again.  (Time depends on the droopiness.)  To keep your celery crisp longer, remove it from the plastic bag and wrap it in aluminum foil and keep it in the crisper.  Sounds weird, but it works.

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