Have you ever felt overshadowed, your hard work, talents and range going unnoticed while some more ostentatious soul gets promoted, awarded or otherwise heaved into the spotlight? I have. And I’m not alone. Celery, my favorite winter vegetable, also knows the feeling.
Celery selflessly props up other ingredients with its subtly salty bite and savory aroma, unifying with a dish after being sauteed to a docile translucence, essentially disappearing. It’s the kind of ingredient you never single out, but if it weren’t there in your workaday tuna salad or minestrone, your tongue would know that something was missing.
I bet you have a bag of celery in your crisper drawer right now. Most of us do. Soup-making season is upon us, and a vast number of those recipes start with a mirepoix, that stalwart trio of onion, celery and carrots. You need it for things like meatloaf, chicken stew, pot roast and many other wintry dishes. Celery is cheap and lasts a long time in the refrigerator, so there’s no compelling reason to leave it out.
Without T-shirt slogans promoting it (see: kale) or chefs cooking it like a steak (see: cauliflower), celery languishes in the deep background of our collective culinary unconscious. But it’s time to take a fresh look at this staple vegetable. Really, when was the last time you cooked or ate a celery-forward dish? Give it its moment. Celery earned it.
Stir-fried with dried chiles, Sichuan peppercorns, ginger and garlic, celery really shows you what’s it got. It becomes juicy as it soaks up those bold flavors. The pork in this dish accents the celery without overshadowing it, glossing the crisp vegetable slices with fat. My recipe is inspired by Fuchsia Dunlop’s gong bao chicken in her cookbook “Every Grain of Rice.” I use a simplified version of her stir-fry sauce and pungent spicing, but ditch the chicken in favor of a mountain of sliced celery, some green bell peppers and a little bit of meat – just 2 ounces per serving. I like this stir-fry over steamed white rice and served with a smashed cucumber salad.
In July, a green, leafy salad practically tosses itself. The farmers market overflows with a variety of sweet greens, and even the typical supermarket offers more and better options through the growing season. But now? Bagged greens packed in plastic – and showing signs of decay before you’ve even bought them – do not inspire me to break out the salad bowl. But humble celery can.
When it comes to making celery the base for an appealing cold-weather salad, there are several important things to remember. First and foremost: Slicing. You want to cut celery on a bias in thin, almost shaved strips. If possible, use the leafy stalks from the bunch’s inner heart. (Those outer stalks are better in the above-mentioned stir-fry anyway.) Once you turn your stalks into a fragrant, feathery pile of greens, dress them early. Allowing the salt and acid to work on the vegetables will render them crisp-tender in roughly 30 minutes.
Rich, tangy cheese complements the flavor and texture of celery the way few other ingredients can. Think back to the after-school snack of cream-cheese-filled stalks or the cooling bite of spears drenched in blue cheese sauce that are so often enjoyed with hot wings. I call for feta in the recipe here, but a funky, creamy, richly veined blue is also a good idea.
Winter salads need one warm element to entice me on cold days. I like roasted creminis for their meaty, earthy savor. Roasted sweet potato cubes would be good if you wanted to lean in a sweeter direction. And warm, cubed chicken makes this a complaint-proof main course. My hope is less that you make this exact recipe and more that you recognize celery’s stealth star power. It’s easily transformed into a salad base in a way that wrecks baby spinach’s self-esteem.
I’m also giving you a recipe for a cashew-based green goddess dressing – the perfect dip for celery spears. This rich, tangy, herb-hued sauce has myriad applications you will likely discover on your own once you’ve made it. Unlike typical cashew-based versions of green goddess, this one isn’t vegan. Anchovies’ salty punch defines the dressing for me. If you leave them out, you’ll still have a tasty dressing or dip with plenty of fresh-herb flavor.
On your typical crudite platter, the celery is picked last and frequently ends up going to waste. But it doesn’t have to. Just this once, use your Y-peeler to remove that stringy exterior that can make snacking on raw celery a drag. Without that tooth-snarling husk, celery becomes a dream of a dipper: hearty, crisp, light and filling. It just might make you feel guilty for underestimating celery all this time.
Joy Manning is a Philadelphia food writer and cookbook author.Celery and Pork Stir-Fry
Beef, lamb or crumbled tempeh would all be fine substitutes for the pork. If you can’t find the Chinkiang (black) vinegar at your nearest Asian market, use balsamic vinegar.Serve with steamed white rice.INGREDIENTS:For the sauce:2 tablespoons water1 tablespoon sugar1 tablespoon Chinkiang black vinegar (may substitute balsamic vinegar; see headnote)2 teaspoons soy sauce1 teaspoon cornstarch1 teaspoon toasted sesame oilFor the stir-fry:1 tablespoon canola oil4 dried red chiles, crumbled (seeds discarded if you prefer less spicy heat)1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns5 medium ribs celery, sliced on the diagonal1 green bell pepper, seeded and cut into thin strips3 large cloves garlic, sliced thinOne 2-inch piece of fresh ginger root, peeled and sliced thin6 scallions, sliced, white and green parts divided8 ounces ground pork¼ cup roasted, unsalted peanuts, coarsely choppedKosher saltMethod:For the sauce: Whisk together the water, sugar, Chinkiang vinegar, soy sauce, cornstarch and toasted sesame oil in a medium bowl.
For the stir-fry: Heat the oil in a wok or large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the red chiles and Sichuan peppercorns; stir-fry for about 1 minute, until the chiles darken slightly.
Add the celery and green pepper; stir-fry for 3 to 4 minutes, until crisp-tender. Add the garlic, ginger and white parts of the scallion and stir-fry an additional 1 minute, until fragrant. Transfer to a plate.
Add the pork to the skillet and cook, breaking up the meat as you stir-fry, about 5 minutes, until browned. Add the celery mixture and stir to combine. Stir the sauce, add it to the skillet, and stir to coat everything. Sprinkle the peanuts over the top, and season lightly with salt.
Serve right away.
Nutrition per serving: 260 calories, 14 g protein, 13 g carbohydrates, 18 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 40 mg cholesterol, 270 mg sodium, 3 g dietary fiber, 6 g sugar
Celery Salad with Roasted Mushrooms, White Beans and Feta
Servings: 4 to 6
Warm roasted mushrooms make this salad hearty and appealing on a cold day. Goat cheese, blue cheese or Parmigiano-Reggiano would all be good swaps for the feta.
MAKE AHEAD: The celery mixture needs to marinate in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes and up to 1 hour. The salad can be refrigerated for up to 3 days. (The mushrooms aren’t the same cold or at room temperature, but they are still good.)
INGREDIENTS:For the marinated celery:2 tablespoons minced shallot2 tablespoons champagne or other white wine vinegar2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil½ teaspoon salt¾ teaspoon sugar¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper8 ribs celery (preferably leafy ones from the heart), sliced very thin on the diagonal1 cup cooked or canned white beans (rinsed and drained if canned)For the roasted mushrooms:12 ounces cremini mushrooms, each cut into quarters2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil¼ teaspoon saltFor assembly:¼ cup chopped parsley¼ cup chopped fresh mint2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill3 ounces crumbled feta cheese (see headnote)Method:For the marinated celery: Whisk together the shallot, vinegar, oil, salt, sugar and black pepper in a large salad bowl until the sugar has dissolved. Add the celery and white beans, toss, and let marinate in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
While the celery marinates, make the roasted mushrooms: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Arrange the mushrooms on a rimmed baking sheet, then drizzle with oil, season with salt and toss to coat. Roast (middle rack) for 30 to 40 minutes, until the mushrooms have browned and are tender.
Reserve 2 tablespoons of the mixed herbs to garnish the salad.
To assemble just before serving, toss the rest of the herbs with the celery and white bean mixture. Arrange on a platter. Top with the roasted mushrooms, crumbled feta and reserved herbs. Serve right away.
Nutrition per serving (based on 6): 190 calories, 7 g protein, 13 g carbohydrates, 13 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 480 mg sodium, 4 g dietary fiber, 4 g sugar
Cashew Green Goddess Dip
Servings: 8 (makes 1½ cups)
This bright and creamy dip is ready in 20 minutes.For a vegan version of this dressing, omit the anchovies and season with additional salt to taste. Replace the honey with agave nectar.
MAKE AHEAD: If you don’t have a high-speed blender (such as a Vitamix), soak the cashews overnight in cold water and drain before using in this recipe. The dip can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 5 days.
INGREDIENTS:1 cup raw cashews½ cup water½ cup chopped parsley¼ cup lemon juice¼ cup chopped fresh tarragon2 tablespoons chopped chives3 canned anchovies, drained1 teaspoon honey1 clove garlic½ teaspoon salt8 celery stalks, peeled and cut into spears, for servingMethod:Combine the cashews, water, parsley, lemon juice, tarragon, chives, anchovies, honey, garlic and salt in a blender. Puree until smooth. Chill before serving with the celery spears.
Nutrition per serving: 110 calories, 4 g protein, 8 g carbohydrates, 8 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 240 mg sodium, 1 g dietary fiber, 3 g sugar