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Pity the homely celery root -- at least until you've tasted it
ATLANTA (CNN) -- Pity the poor celery root, or celeriac as the French call it. This baseball-sized root with brown knotted skin, hairy, gnarly roots crusted with dirt has no shelf appeal and is often ignored.
It is truly one of Mother Nature's homeliest vegetables. On the upside, it also one of Mother Nature's tastiest vegetables, with a taste that has been described as a little like licorice, a bit lemony, and certainly like celery but without the fibrous texture.
The classic French preparation is shredded celeriac in a romulade sauce, a tart, mustardy mayonnaise. If you are in Paris during the fall and winter months, don't be surprised if you see celeriac on the menu at any of the famous brasseries such as La Coupole, Brasserie Flo or La Cameleon.
Add to the pot
But as glorious as celeriac romulade is, this fleshy root has many other uses. Simply peeled, sliced and julienned into little sticks, celeriac will improve the flavor of any tossed salad, especially if citrus, such as grapefruit or orange slices are added.
Deborah Madison in "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone" suggests pairing celeriac with potatoes to enliven mashed potatoes.
Partnered with either beets or carrots, it makes a spicy puree to accompany roasted meats. Marcella Hazan in "Marcella Cucina" mixes celeriac with pungent black olive spread to make a tasty puree.
Cut the celeriac into small cubes and add it to your next pot of ham and bean soup. The little cubes add an explosion of flavor to the creamy texture of the cooked beans. The same cubes of celeriac are also an excellent accompaniment to lentil soup or a pot of wild rice.
Peel it, cut it
While celeriac is usually marked "celery root" in food stores in the United States, it isn't the root of celery stalks but a close cousin. Like celery, celeriac is an umbel -- the family of aromatic plants that include the better-known parsley, carrots and fennel.
Select firm, hard roots that are about baseball size and feel heavy. Often the bigger ones have voids or fibrous cores. Wash the roots thoroughly to remove as much dirt as possible. Then use a knife to trim away the roots and the peel. Slice the celeriac and immediately toss it into a bowl of water acidulated with lemon juice. Peeled celeriac will turn brown in about five minutes if left in the open air.
Because the roots and dirt-filled crevices have to be trimmed away, you'll lose at least a quarter, if not more, of the celeriac during peeling. Usually, a 1 pound celeriac will yield about two cups once peeled and sliced or grated.
Celeriac contains potassium, calcium, and vitamin C. There are about 14 calories in every 3.5 ounces or 100 grams of raw celeriac.
Fall is the season for celeriac, but often the roots are available all year thanks to international shipping.
According to the Horticulture Program at Texas A&M University, celeriac can be grown anywhere celery can be grown. It takes about 200 days from seeding to the time the root is fully mature. The plant's green leaves, which have that same lemony, celery flavor and are an excellent substitute for parsley, can be gathered any time. The roots are best around the size of a baseball but can be gathered earlier.
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