edible outcast: celery root

This winter, I was asked to write about winter vegetables to Interrupt Mag's DIY issue. I opted to feature the veg I would argue is the most under-appreciated: celery root.

The first time I ever saw celery root was in a market in Paris. Marked céleri-rave, it was undoubtedly the ugliest vegetable I had ever seen. Off-white, knotted and scraggly, it was the Quasimodo of the food world. And yet, when winter came, its name began to appear on chic menus throughout the city—not to mention in cooking magazines.

The first time I bought celery root (also known as celeriac) was to prepare a chestnut purée. I found the recipe in a magazine called Cuisine et Vins de France, whose dishes ran the gamut from elaborate terrines to one-pot French peasant food. The chestnut puree was on the simpler end of the spectrum, and when the mix of flavors failed to impress, I associated the fault with the stranger of the two ingredients. In the meantime, I sampled a number of exemplary céleri-rave dishes in the restaurants of the capital, but I never invited the gnarled root back into my Parisian kitchen.

It wasn't until a few years later, in Brooklyn, that I became reacquainted with celery root. The deciding dish was a crunchy, subtle and elegant "winter whites" salad of finely shaved vegetables at Al di la in Park Slope. Among the chic white-on-white flavors, celeriac stood out— herbaceous but not overpowering—rekindling my interest in its many possible uses. Shortly thereafter, at a dinner I was hosting at my apartment, I decided to slice the root with a mandolin and roast it in the oven. Caught up in the arrival of my guests, I accidentally burned a few of the slices, but at the suggestion of a friend, didn't throw them away. To my surprise, the charred, crispy chips were even more delicious than their fairer counterparts. And thus, my obsession with charred celery root began.

Yet for those who don't like serving blackened food, celery root offers other equally addictive—and healthy—preparations. Soup, by far, is one of the vegetable's strengths, and I particularly like it pureed with fennel, leek and orange zest.

Below, you'll find basic recipes for these two preparations, but I encourage you to go further with your kitchen experiments. Julienned, celery root makes a refreshing, crunchy addition to salads—especially when paired with tart apples. As a simple purée, it's an flavorful, silky base over which to serve fish or poultry. I'm sure someone has even successfully adapted celeriac for desserts, but for that, you'll have to consult another cook.

Oven-charred Shaved Celery Root

  • 1 bulb celery root
  • grapeseed (or other neutral, high-heat oil)
  • salt and pepper
  1. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Wash the celery root, and trim off the exterior skin with a chef's knife.
  3. Cut the trimmed root into 4 (or more) manageable chunks. Using a mandolin or food processor, shave celery root into thin chips (not paper thin, but just to the point where they begin to have a little bend/flexibility).
  4. Toss the chips in a bowl with a tsp-tbsp of oil, salt and pepper, as needed.
  5. Roast for 20 minutes, and then keep checking on the slices until they reach desired color. The goal is slightly charred, not burnt to a crisp.

Celery Root, Fennel and Leek Soup

Adapted from River Cottage Veg

  • 1 large leek
  • 2 small or 1 large celery root
  • 2 small or 1 large bulb fennel
  • 3-4 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp grapeseed (or other neutral oil)
  • zest of one orange
  • croutons (optional)
  1. Clean and chop leeks into 1/4 inch half-rounds. Melt butter in large pot, and stir in leeks to soften.
  2. Clean and thinly slice fennel bulbs, reserving fronds. Add to pot, with oil. Stir often.
  3. Clean, remove skin and cut celery root into medium-sized cubes. Add orange zest to pot, stir.
  4. Add 3 cups vegetable stock. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 20-30 minutes.
  5. Remove soup from heat and let cool. 
  6. When room temperature, blend mixture with an immersion blender (or carefully in a stand blender) until smooth.
  7. Taste and add salt/pepper as needed. Reheat and serve with fennel fronds and croutons for garnish.