Roots are showing

Celebrating celery’s ugly (but tasty) cousin

Photo by Steven Jackson (via Flickr)

Though relatively uncommon in America, celeriac, also known as celery root, has long graced European dinner tables. Popular in Egypt since ancient times, it made its way to England and quickly spread to the rest of Europe, and later, America. Celeriac is well adapted to a cool climate and short growing season; it can be harvested as late as November. Because it stores well, it was a common winter vegetable before refrigeration, providing raw nutrients long into the winter months. Although related to the stalk celery we’re more familiar with, it’s a different plant. It’s low in calories a good source of vitamin C—especially when eaten raw—as well as fiber and many minerals including potassium, phosphorus, calcium, iron and magnesium.

The tough skin, which helps celeriac store well, also makes it kind of ugly—a gnarled, warty, deformed round brown thing. Inside, however, you’ll find a crisp, smooth texture, with a flavor similar to celery but with added bite. If you like celery, then you’ll like the more concentrated flavor of celeriac. It’s sharpness blends well with sweet vegetables like carrots and works well with creamy dressings. It perks up the flavor of soups and casseroles, and is also great raw in a salad. I like it added to mashed potatoes for a subtle change of flavor. (Cook potatoes and celeriac together, and proceed as you would with mashed potatoes.)

We grow celery root in our garden, and store it for late fall and early winter use. When buying, look for roots that are about a pound, 4 to 6 inches in diameter, and have a relatively smooth skin. To prepare, slice off the ends and then peel like a potato. I find it’s easier to use a sharp knife rather than a vegetable peeler, and to cut into slices first, then peel each slice.

It’s a bit tough, so it needs more tender care. Try it raw and cooked in these two easy-to-prepare recipes:

Celeric & carrot salad


1 cup celeriac, peeled and shredded

1 cup carrot, shredded

2 teaspoons olive oil

2 teaspoons lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped

1 tablespoon scallions (green part only), chopped

Simply place all ingredients in a bowl and stir well to combine. Serves two.

Celeric skillet


1 tablespoon cooking oil, or bacon drippings

1 pound chicken breast, diced

salt, to taste and for boiling water

black pepper, to taste

2 medium celeriac, peeled and sliced

1 tablespoon lemon juice

2 medium potatoes, peeled, halved, and sliced into rounds

2 large onions, peeled, halved, and sliced into rings

1 tablespoon flour

1/2 cup chicken broth

1/4 cup milk (one percent)

1 tablespoon Parmesan, grated

1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped

Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper and sauté in a large skillet with the oil or drippings; set aside and reserve pan juices. In a pot of salted boiling water, blanch celeriac along with lemon juice for one minute; drain. In reserved juices, sauté onion, potatoes and celeriac until onions are translucent.

Remove some of the drippings to a smaller pan. Add the flour and stir till it’s a golden brown. Gradually pour in the chicken broth, stirring with whisk, over low to medium heat. Still stirring, add milk and Parmesan. When sauce is thickened add it to the pan with vegetables. Add chicken and parsley and stir to combine. Season with additional salt and pepper as needed. Serves three to four.