Celeriac, or Celery root, is one of those foods you end up trying and realize you’ve been missing out on a good nutritious, cheap ingredient. Versatile and underutilized, this root vegetable is not to be confused with the bright green celery stalks you are already familiar with. A slightly firmer texture than your standard russet potato, Celeriac tastes a little bit like celery stalks and can be used anywhere you would normally use potatoes. Roasted, sautéed, or raw, mashed, grated, sliced, or puréed, there is hardly a shortage of creative uses for this vegetable.
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Celeriac versus Celery
Celeriac (Apium graveolens var. rapaceum), is also known as celery root, turnip-rooted celery, or knob celery. Don’t be deceived by this terribly ugly looking thing. Its quite delicious and nutritious on the inside. Many grocery stores seem to use either celeriac or celery root. This root vegetable is cultivated for its edible roots and bulb.
The bright green celery(Apium graveolens) whose stalks we eat are technically the same plant, but have been cultivated differently. The celery sold in stores is almost always the Pascal variety. The celery is grown for big long stalks and a smaller root. Celery is grown in deep trenches to allow for blanching.
Wild celery is yet another variation. Neither the root nor stalks are very edible. Wild celery is grown for seeds which are then sold as a spice.
Celeriac is grown in ways which encourage a larger root base, and the stalks are much smaller, thinner, and very fibrous. Celeriac leaves and stalks are much more acidic than celery. The root itself can be stored for months in the winter.
History and Mythology
The oldest mention of celeriac is in Homer’s Odyssey, where it is referred to as selinon. From there mentions of celeriac and selinon seem to drop off until the 1600’s, where it became popular in the classic French dish, céleri rémoulade.
In Greek mythology, the plant was associated with the dead, with leaves used as garlands for the dead. There are mericarps dated to the seventh century BC in Greece. Interestingly enough, leaves and inflorescences were found in the tomb of pharaoh Tutankhamun.
Source: United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28
With only 42 calories per 100 grams, celeriac has more calories than its leafy celery counterpart, while low enough to consume in massive quantities. And you’ll want to – its delicious.
Much like other vegetables in the Apiaceae family, celeriac contains poly-acetylene antioxidants:
- Falcarinol – Anticancer, protects roots from fungal diseases.
- Falcarindiol – Anticancer and anti-inflammatory, the main compound which causes the bitterness taste. (1)
- Panaxydiol – Helps prevent acute lymphoblastic leukemia (2)
- Methyl-falcarindiol – Antifungal properties.
Warning label: Like celery, if you are pregnant, you do not want to eat this in large quantities.
- Aliphatic C(17)-polyacetylenes of the falcarinol type as potential health promoting compounds in food plants of the Apiaceae family. Recent Pat Food Nutr Agric. 2011 Jan;3(1):64-77.
Polyacetylenes from the Apiaceae vegetables carrot, celery, fennel, parsley, and parsnip and their cytotoxic activities. J Agric Food Chem. 2005 Apr 6;53(7):2518-23.
Buying and Storing
Selecting the Perfect Celeriac
Celeriac is fresh during the fall and winter months, although you may be able to find it year round. When buying celeriac from the store, look for small to medium sized bulbs for the best flavor and texture. If you’re making gratin, casseroles, or mashed celeriac, feel free to grab the larger bulbs. Make sure the root feels firm and has a few fresh leaves on top.
Cut off any excess stalks and leaves. Keep the bulb separate from other bulbs whole in a plastic bag inside your fridge. It can keep for up to 4 months. Celeriac does not freeze well, so make sure to it stays out of your ice box!
Once you have cut the bulbous root open, you’ll need to store it in lemon or lime water, much like you would sliced apples. It changes color extremely quickly if you aren’t ready to use it.
Preparing and Cooking
Protip: Celeriac is a dense and large root vegetable to cut. The Wusthof Classic 8-Inch Cook’s Knife is my go-to for handing celeriac – pictured below.
This is a root vegetable- you’d be wise to rinse it off before and after you peel. The skin is way too tough to start off with a peeler. Begin with either a chef’s knife or paring knife and a cutting board. Lay the celeriac root on its side and hold the stalk. Cut the bottom first, then stand it upright and begin cutting off the sides. Finish with the top. Use either a knife or peeler to get any small spots of skin you’ve missed. You’ll find the process very similar to a pineapple.
Immediately submerge the celiac in lemon water, lime, or a bit of vinegar, also known as acidulated water.
You’ll discover about one fourth of the celeriac’s weight has been cut off. There isn’t much you can do with the skin except for composting.
Without getting into specific recipes, these are some general instructions for cooking celeriac various ways.
Raw: Do you really need help with this? Stick it in your mouth! The whole thing. Send photo.
Raw on salads: Experiment with mandoline slices or using a grater. Include with a beet salad and invite me over for dinner.
Boiled: Whole peeled takes 25-30 minutes. Sliced is 8-10 minutes. Cubed is 5-8 minutes.
Gratin: Boil whole. Slice into thin rounds and layer with other root vegetables.
Roasted: Preheat oven to 375°F. Cut into large chunks. Season with olive oil and pink salt. Add other spices to taste. Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until browned and tender. Turn over halfway.
Chips: Preheat oven to 350°F. Use mandoline to slice thinly. Toss with olive oil, salt, and any other seasoning you like. Arrange on a baking sheet in a single layer. Roast until golden brown and crisp. Timing depends on your mandoline settings – pay attention to your oven!
Fries: Preheat oven to 475°F. Cut celeriac much like you would potatoes into french fries. Toss with minced garlic, rosemary, black pepper, pink salt. Bake for 40 minutes and turn halfway.
Mash: Cut into large chunks. Place in pot with cold water. Bring to boil and cook until fork-tender. Include potatoes while cooking, or throw in some cauliflower near the end and mash it all together. Use purple or orange cauliflower if you’re a wild child.
Soup: Cut into small cubes. Add with other ingredients and simmer until tender. Purée and add finishing ingredients, such as cream or fresh herbs.
If you are interested in exploring other unusual and underrated vegetables, fruits, and herbs, this book might be up your alley.
From traveling to Italy to learn about balsamic vinegar from the source to homesteading in his own backyard, Michael is ever ready to take on new challenges and think about the world from different perspectives.