Kay’s Cooking Corner

February 13-19, 2017

Weird winter vegetables

By Kay Bona

In our growing area, mid-winter is the time to put root vegetables to use, so I was browsing the vegetable aisle looking for ideas when I found the Ugly Duckling of Winter Vegetables! Seriously, one look at it and my first thought was, “who would ever eat that?!”

Have you ever just wandered through a market that carries whole or organic foods? They have such an array of foods you never see in a mega-market, and sometimes you find the weirdest looking vegetables. That is how I stumbled upon today’s recipe.

Let me introduce you to Celeriac. If you have seen it in the store, maybe you did like I do, or have done with strange items in the past. Look at it, wonder what in the world you use it for, pick it up and feel it, (squeeze-e-e it really good) then lay it back down, thinking you will just stick to what you already know. Well, Celeriac is ugly, but just on the outside. Once you have pared away the warty, ugly little ball of roots, you’ll find a beautiful, crisp and creamy-looking inside, just waiting to be made into a comforting soup or side-dish.

Celeriac is a member of the celery family, however, only the root is used for cooking. Also known as celery root, knob celery, and turnip-rooted celery, celeriac has a taste that is similar to a blend of celery and parsley.

Native to the Mediterranean region, evidences of cultivated celeriac have been found in Egyptian graves from circa 1100 B.C. The Greeks called it Selinon, and it is thought that the Greeks gave celeraic wine to winning athletes. Celery “elixir” or “tonic” has long been thought to have medicinal benefits.

When purchasing fresh celeriac from a store, you can identify the celeriac by its large, bulbous root that grows to an average of 3.5 inches in length. Rough green stalks surround this root, which is light brown in color. Look for a root that is as smooth as possible, firm, and without soft spots.

Celeriac is low in Saturated Fat and Cholesterol and high in Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Phosphorus, Potassium, Dietary Fiber, Vitamin B6, Magnesium and Manganese.

It is amazing that such a tasty and good-for-you vegetable is so unused, however, with our friends across the pond, it is a favorite. A paring knife, rather than a peeler, seems to work best for removing the thick skin. Drop the peeled bits into a bowl of water into which some lemon juice has been squeezed immediately after cutting to prevent discoloration.

Celeriac can be eaten raw (it’s really quite tasty), cut into slices, diced or grated and served in salads. It can be cooked and made into a purée, by itself or with other vegetables. It adds flavor to soups and stews. It is well suited to braising and is delicious covered in a béchamel sauce then broiled with cheese on top.

Here is a nice wintery dish that the kids will love. They’ll never know you used celeriac instead of potatoes unless you tell them! I suggest not. I even suggest not letting them see it until after the fact.

Braised Chicken with Celeriac and Garlic

3 lb chicken breasts, and drumsticks with skin
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 cup carrots, sliced into 1/2 rounds
1 celery root (sometimes called celeriac; 1-1/4 lb), peeled with a sharp knife and cut into 3/4-inch cubes
1 head garlic, cloves separated and left unpeeled
1 1/4 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth (10 fl oz)
2 fresh thyme sprigs

Pat chicken dry; season with salt and pepper. Heat oil in large skillet over moderately high heat until hot. Brown chicken and cook 8-10 minutes. Transfer to a plate and pour off all but 1 tablespoon fat from skillet. Add butter to skillet and heat over moderately high heat, then sauté celeriac, carrots, and garlic, stirring frequently, until celeriac is browned, about 5 minutes. Add broth and thyme. Deglaze skillet by boiling, stirring and scraping up any brown bits. Return the chicken to the skillet along with any juices that have accumulated on plate, and then reduce heat and simmer, covered, until chicken is cooked through, about 20-25 minutes.

Kay Bona is a staff writer for the Daily Record and an award-winning columnist and photographer. Contact her at kay@dailydata.com.