Celery is one of the last picks I would ever reach for on a vegetable platter. I’ve always considered it as nothing more than filler amidst the tasty crunch of peppers, carrots and broccoli. And yes, I am aware of its good qualities such as high-fibre content, negative calories (it takes more calories to consume and digest celery than the stalk contains), and easy preparation. But for my tastes, the only essential use for celery is in the turkey stuffing I make at Christmas and Easter. I first heard of celeriac, a variety of celery, about eight years ago. I’ve spotted it at the grocery store and stumbled upon several enticing recipes for the knobby-looking root, but due to my strong dislike of celery, never bothered to try it. While celery seems to know its purpose, with a natural scoop-shape begging to be filled with peanut butter, Cheez Whiz or ranch dip to make it palatable, celeriac just sits there like a bump from a knob. Other roots may look as unappealing as celeriac, but at least their names are interesting… jicama, taro, yucca. But celeriac? At worst, it sounds like an affliction; at best, a moniker used to describe someone who is unusually passionate about celery. After shunning celeriac for all these years, I decided to seek out any good qualities that might be lurking beneath that rough, brown exterior. As I cut off the ends and began removing the tough skin from these medium-sized roots, the pleasant scent of celery burst forth. Unfortunately, celeriac possesses the bitter taste of celery, while its ivory-coloured flesh quickly turns brown when exposed to air. I was not impressed. Moving onto the stove, I boiled some chunks for about 15 minutes in a light chicken broth. Not bad. The boiling seemed to tame some of its pungent flavour, and bring out a subtle nuttiness. But it was still hit and miss. One delicious taste was easily overpowered by the next bitter bite. Cubed and nestled in a pan lightly splashed with olive oil, sprinkled with seasoned salt and pepper, the celeriac resembled hash browns. And it tasted pretty good. Plus, having only a fraction of the starch in potatoes, it required much less oil for frying. Even better, I tried a chip off the old knob, thinly slicing the celeriac into rounds and sautéeing in olive oil and seasonings for a crispy, crunchy delight. Yet, that occasional underlying bitterness was still a challenge to overcome. I found the remedy in a recipe I kept from all those years ago. By adding vegetables to the mix in a colourful stir-fry, the celeriac became the life of the party. How fitting that what the unapproachable celeriac really needed was some good company. Like its cousin, the carrot. And onions, garlic and potatoes. Which just goes to show there’s nothing like a good get-together with friends to bring out the best in us.
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