Celery is thought to have originated in Southern Europe and Northern Africa. The wild celery that was found there consisted mostly of leaves and had very little in the way of stalks. The Greeks used the plant as a medicine and also as a decoration to adorn their top athletes. It was the Romans who first started using celery as a seasoning in their food. It was not until the middle ages that celery stalks were consumed as food. Today, celery is a staple item in our households. In French cuisine, carrots, onion and celery make up a mirepoix, which is the base of many sauces and soups. Celery, onions, and peppers make up what is known as the holy trinity, a staple in Louisiana creole and cajun cuisine.
Celery is a member of the Apiaceae or Umbelliferae family. It is related to carrots, cilantro, dill, parsley and parsnips. It typically grows to a height of 12 to 16 inches, and forms a conical shape made up of numerous stalks that are all attached at the base of the plant. Celery is a slightly salty flavored vegetable that has a crunchy, yet delicate consistency.
Celery is known for being an excellent source of dietary fiber, and it also contains vitamins C, K, A, and B1, B2, and B6. Celery will supply you with good amounts of potassium, folate, manganese, magnesium, iron, and calcium. One thing to keep in mind with celery is that per stalk, celery contains approximately 35 milligrams of sodium. So if you are watching your salt intake, this may be worth noting.
Celery should be in tight and compact bunches. Look for celery that appears crisp and snaps easily when it is pulled apart. If the celery has any kind of yellowing to it, it should be avoided. Celery should have a pale to bright green color to the outside of the stalks. The leaves that are on the bunch of celery are another good indicator of how fresh the celery is. They also should have a pale to bright green appearance.
Celery can easily be stored for up to seven days in the refrigerator. Never store celery at room temperature for very long. Because of its high water content, it will wilt quickly if not stored properly. Store in a sealed container or in a plastic bag to avoid letting the celery dry out. Never store the celery loose in the refrigerator, and never store it in standing water. Storing celery in water can cause some of the nutrient content to be leeched out over time. Finally, avoid freezing celery.
When cooking with celery, prep only what you need for the recipe just before you are going to use it. Preparing celery too far in advance will lead to the browning of the cut ends and possibly lead to the dehydration of the cut celery. Wash the celery stalks you are going to use under running water, and cut into the desired sized lengths. Be sure not to discard the greens, they contain the majority of the vitamin C, calcium, and potassium that is stored in the celery. Try to use the fresh leaves within a couple of days of being removed from the stalk because they don’t store well.
The chopped stalks of celery are generally used in soups, salads, and stir-fries. It is also a fantastic snack food all by itself or with any kind of nut butter (my favorite is almond butter). The leaves of the celery can be used in many of the same dishes that the stalks are used in.
If you do not plan on using the leaves soon, they can also be dried and stored for later uses. To dry them simply remove them from the celery stalks and wash them thoroughly. Place the leaves in a single layer on a baking sheet, and put them in the oven. Keep the oven at the lowest setting and check the leaves regularly until they are completely dry. Slightly crush the leaves and store them in a tightly sealed jar. These leaves can now be kept for a longer period of time, and can be used to add a celery flavor to any recipe.
Celery, Fennel, & Olive Salad
- 3 cups celery, thinly sliced diagonally
- 1 small fennel bulb, thinly sliced (stems and leaves removed)
- 1/4 cup parsley, thinly sliced
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 cup parmesan cheese
- 2 Tbsp mayonnaise
- 1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
- 1 tsp lemon zest
- 1 anchovy fillet (optional)
- 1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup oil-cured black olives, pitted and chopped
- Combine the celery, fennel, and parsley in a large bowl.
- In a small bowl mix the parmesan, mayonnaise, lemon juice, lemon zest, and anchovy if you are using it.
- Use a whisk to stir in the oil. Whisk until the oil is totally mixed in. Season with salt and pepper.
- Toss the celery mixture with the dressing, and mix in the olives and serve.
Photo by: TheDeliciousLife