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The disappearing vegetable

(article, Deborah Madison)

I buy celery every week. Always have, and probably always will.

“But where does it go?” my husband once asked. “I never really see it.”

And I realized he was right. It did get used, but how? Certainly not in a way that was front and center. I myself was mystified. 

But it’s not that mystifying. I use it in mirepoix several times a week, and when I do, I usually snack on a branch or two. The leaves make a special treat for our finches, or they go into salads. There may be one or two gnarly stalks that go into the compost at week’s end, but that’s about it. Celery Victor? I never make it. 

[%image deborah'ssalad float=right width=300 caption="Celery salad."]

You can cook celery — braising is an especially suitable method, and I intend to explore that in depth one day — but with the early-spring weather, I’m in the mood for the crispy crunch of a celery salad, which is good because my lettuces are still in seed form or close to it. 

There are a great many delicacies popping up in my garden that I’m dying to use, but can do so only in small amounts without depleting them: Lovage leaves. Orach. Tarragon. Carrot tops. Vigorous-looking clumps of parsley. Chives. Mâche. 

Celery, it turns out, is the perfect foil for these treasures.

So celery salad it is, and now I’m buying two bunches a week! I’ve become quite fond of this very quick-to-make, ever-changing salad, and it does make celery a much more visible vegetable.

Celery Salad with the First Spring Herbs

Vinaigrette
1 shallot, finely diced
Zest of 1 Meyer lemon
1 1/2 tablespoons Meyer lemon juice
¼ tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. walnut oil
2 Tbsp. olive oil

Salad
3 cups (approximately) thinly sliced celery stalks (peel any rough-looking stalks first)
Finely chopped herbs, including the celery leaves, parsley, lovage, carrot tops, and chives
Orach sprigs, if you have them
⅓ cup freshly cracked and chopped walnuts
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Several handfuls of mâche

Combine the shallot, zest, lemon juice, and salt in a bowl, and let stand 10 minutes. Whisk in the oils. Taste for salt and add more if you wish.

Toss the sliced celery with the herbs, walnuts, and a few pinches of sea salt, then with enough of the dressing to moisten well. Taste for salt and season with pepper.

Loosely line a bowl with the mâche and add the celery. Spoon a little dressing over the mâche leaves, and toss at the table.

You could also include thinly sliced fennel, or finish with hard-cooked eggs, chopped and tossed with the celery, or quartered and served on the side.

If mâche isn’t available, choose another green, such as chopped white or pink endive, slivered radicchio, slivered romaine leaves, or frisée.

Include boiled, sliced, or diced yellow-fleshed potatoes or celeriac if you like. But hold the mayo!

p(bio). Deborah Madison is the author of numerous award-winning cookbooks, including Local Flavors. She lives in New Mexico.


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