I can almost promise you didn’t answer “celery.”
But I happen to love celery for it’s crunchy texture and it’s salty, slightly bitter-sweet taste. I’ve been known to walk quite a few blocks to get the freshest bunch of stalks (or crispest celery root.)
Celery’s loaded with fiber, anti-oxidants, Vitamin K, folate, Vitamin A, potassium, calcium and magnesium, and loads of other nutrients and is famous for it’s rather high sodium content, around 32 mg. in one stalk. (You need sodium, and the sodium in celery is perfectly balanced with potassium, calcium, and magesium, so don’t shy away from eating it if you have high blood pressure.)
Celery also contains some pretty powerful phyto-nutrients which are believed to be anti-inflammatory and especially beneficial for the stomach, the digestive tract, and the heart. I was taught by various holistic nutritionists that celery lowers the blood pressure and has a calming effect, but later was told by a food chemist that these actions were mostly functions of celery seeds.
In traditional Chinese medicine, celery is serious medicine. It’s considered by holistic nutritionists and in many cases even the medical establishment to be excellent for inflammatory conditions (inflammation is at the root of the majority of unpleasant symptoms and illnesses), and many other disorders.
Celery was beloved in Egypt (it was found in pharoahs’ tombs) and ancient Greece and is used as a seasoning and a vegetable in various classic and modern cuisines including Vietnamese, Chinese, Indian, Persian, Moroccan, Belgian, Scandinavian, French, Creole and Cajun, and more. There are several varieties in addition to the Pascal variety we in the States are familiar with.
There are few drawbacks to celery. Chief among them is that it is one of the most heavily sprayed crops due to its high potential for insect infestation.
The good news is that organic celery is readily available and has far less insect infestation than the sprayed versions, at least in my experience. With non-organic celery, I end up throwing away 1/4 to 1/3 the bunch; with organic, usually I can keep everything except the ends.
Another drawback is that it can cause severe (even deadly) allergic reactions in some people.
Drawbacks aside, celery shouldn’t be an afterthought, but should take pride of place on your table. It’s good raw in salads and juiced, it’s terrific as a seasoning in stews and other dishes, and it’s delicious on it’s own, braised or sauteed. And besides, as the nation who actually invented and drank Cel-Ray tonic will tell you, it’s indispensable to Jewish cuisine. (You can’t really make good Jewish chicken soup without it.)
Celery stalks or even root slices are a great snack. Just scrub, check for insects, peel if necessary, and store wrapped in a dish towel or paper towels in a baggie in the crisper. It’ll keep for 5 days.
We generally think of celery as a minor player in a cooked dish, but it shines on its own, too.
Turkish and other Sephardic Jews cook celery sweet and sour style. Apio is Latin for celery (apium).
1 cup of water
1/4 cup olive oil
1-3 heaping tablespoons of honey or 2-4tablespoons of Sucanat (I actually prefer this with only a teaspoon or two of honey for both health and taste reasons, but that isn’t traditional. According to my sweet-toothed Moroccan friend, this should taste really sweet!)
3 medium-large bunches celery, scrubbed and checked for insects, and sliced on the angle into two-inch pieces
Approximately 1/4 to 1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, or to taste
Bring water, olive oil, and honey to a boil in a non-reactive pan, then lower heat. Add celery and simmer, loosely covered about 20 minutes. Add lemon juice and simmer up to ten minutes longer, or until tender. Serve as part of a mezze table or as a side dish.
Variation: Braise the celery in the olive oil. Pour the water, honey mixture over and cook until almost tender. Add the lemon juice. Some add sliced carrots or tomatoes. A friend of mine adds peanuts.
Wood Village Salad
An healthier take on Waldorf salad, staple of grandmothers’ luncheons everywhere.
2 crisp, sweet apples such as Gala or Fuji (or if you’re near a farmer’s market, get some real apples!), scrubbed and unpeeled if organic, or peeled if organic, diced into 1 inch cubes
8 stalks of celery, scrubbed, checked for insects (peeled, if you like), and cut into 1/2 slices or diced
1/2 cup organic raisins, rinsed
3/4 cup walnut halves (you can use 1/2 cup roughly chopped walnuts if you prefer)
1/2 cup cold water
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Optional: 1 tablespoon fresh dill
Mix apples, celery, raisins and walnuts. In a separate bowl, mix the tahini with the water and lemon juice until a light cream forms. Pour over salad, mix well, (add dill if using) and serve, chilled on baby greens.
Serves 4 as a large salad course, 6 as a smaller side salad.
Links to Jewish celery recipes:
Yemenite High-Holy Day Soup (meat)
This post was sponsored in the zchut of Chava bat Chana.