Ingredient of the Week, February 3: Celery
Celery is from the same plant family as carrots, parsley, fennel and caraway. There are two main varieties of celery grown today. The most common is the pale green Pascal celery. Celery grows in bunches of long, ribbed stalks with leafy tops. Celery hearts are the inner ribs of the celery. The wild form of celery is known as smallage. It has a bitter taste, and the stalks are more stringy than cultivated celery. Smallage was used in ancient times as a medicine, and the Romans used it as a seasoning. It the 17th and 18th centuries celery was developed by breeding the bitterness out of smallage.
Using a celery stick to garnish a Bloody Mary originated in the 1960s at Chicago's Ambassador East Hotel. An unnamed celebrity got a Bloody Mary, but no swizzle stick. He grabbed a stalk of celery from the relish tray to stir his Bloody Mary and history was made. Celery is used in weight-loss diets, where it provides low-calorie dietary fibre bulk.
Celery is often purported to be a "negative calorie food" based on the idea that the body will burn more calories during the digestion of the food than the body can extract from the food itself. The fact that the body uses very small amounts of energy in digestion compared to what can be extracted even from a low calorie food like celery disproves this theory.
Season: available year-round
How to select: Look for firm, tight bunches with healthy leaves.
How to store: Refrigerate in a plastic bag and place in the crisper for up to two weeks. If the ribs are wilted, separate the ribs and place them in a bowl of ice water for several minutes before use.
How to prepare: Wash thoroughly, as the bunch attracts sand. You can boil, braise, steam it, or eat it raw.
Matches well with: almonds, bechamel sauce, blue cheese, butter, celery seeds, cream, curry, dill, fennel, hollandaise sauce, lemon, nutmeg, parsley, peanut butter, walnuts and of course Buffalo wings.
Celery might be best known for accompanying a plate of hot wings, but this pale green vegetable is much more than a garnish. A 1-cup serving of chopped celery contains just 16 calories and no fat and is rich in vitamin A, vitamin K, and is a very good source of fiber. Celery might also prevent certain chronic health conditions. Look for light green celery that is crisp and firm because it has the most nutritional value.
Slice fresh celery into a tossed green salad or add it to stir-fry recipes. Stir chopped celery into vegetable, chicken noodle or bean soup. Celery complements the flavor of stew and chili recipes as well. Fill celery sticks with peanut or almond butter for a protein-rich snack. Serve celery sticks with low-fat ranch dressing for a nutritious side dish, or toss sliced celery with olive oil, minced onions, chopped, red bell pepper and garlic powder for a tasty and nutrient-dense salad.
How do you use celery?