To most kids, celery is a snack found in nerds’ lunch bags or a prop used for science experiments to show how colored water transports through vascular bundles. To most adults, celery is a stirring stick for a Bloody Mary. But this Mediterranean native — a sibling to carrots, cumin, parsley and cilantro — is an unsung hero in the gustatory world. As March roars in, let’s celebrate National Celery Month with every cook’s best stalk-in-trade.
The Skinny on Celery
At just 6 calories a stalk, celery is considered a “negative” or a “freebie food,” since you probably burn more than those six calories chomping away on the juicy stick (which also gives the old jaw a good work out). A satisfying crunch and loads of non-soluble fiber celery is a dieter’s bliss.
The mighty herb is also a nutritional powerhouse packed with folic acid, riboflavin and Vitamin C to keep metabolism on its toes, along with Vitamin K to dial-up bone mass. Rife with minerals, including calcium, magnesium, manganese and potassium — the latter key for stabilizing cell and body fluids to keep heart rate and blood pressure on an even keel. The aromatic leaves are loaded with antioxidant flavonoids, especially lutein, Vitamin A and beta-carotene to keep eyesight sharp. Finally, the leaves contain essential oils (like limonene) to put the skids on everything from nervousness to creaky joints, while the seeds have also been used as a homeopathic pain reliever.
Dirty Little Celery Secrets
Throughout the ages, celery has been lauded as a high-octane aphrodisiac sparking passion and fueling stamina from the courts of ancient Rome to the parlor of French courtesan Madame de Pompadour (and even the bedroom of famed Italian playboy, Casanova). Today scientists have confirmed celery’s sexy attributes as it has been found to contain a pheromone called androsterone, a substance secreted by the male sweat glands to entice females. Bedtime celery snacks, anyone?
Pick a Winner
Although darker green stalks are more nutrient packed, the light green ones are less stringy. You make the call. Select firm, crisp bunches with bright green leaves and pass over brown-leafed limp stalks.
A Bunch of Trivia
• Celery is the sixth most purchased vegetable in the country.
• One ounce of celery seeds produces an acre of celery crops.
• 75 percent of celery grown in the USA comes from California.
• Celery contains an internal pesticide producing psoralens that ward off hungry fungi. These compounds cause skin allergies in some people after eating celery.
• Hippocrates, the father of medicine, described celery as a nerve soother, while a Sears Catalog (1897) featured a celery nerve tonic.
Chew on That
Every part of the celery herb is edible — the hearty root, the savory seeds, the fragrant leaves and the crispy stalks, of course. In French cuisine the marriage of the aromatic trio of celery (whether the conventional Pascal variety or the celeriac root), carrots and onions is known as the “mirepoix.” These three musketeers sautéed in butter or olive oil are used as the base for assorted soups, stews, sauces and stocks.
Whip up a green machine smoothie with celery, kale, cucumber and almond milk or a pineapple celery stir-fry. Chop into potato, egg, tuna or chicken salad for an added crunchy oomph. Braise celery hearts or slices of celery root for a savory side. Stick some stalks into your chicken or turkey cavity or toss some leaves into your soup pot for added aromatic flavor. Stuff the stalks with hummus, cream cheese, almond butter or crab dip for a refreshing appetizer or snack. Jazz up coleslaw or salad dressings with a sprinkling of tasty celery seeds. Chop into a marinara sauce or concoct this blissful risotto for a scrumptious change-up, adding zero calories and tons of flavor. Bon appetito!
Aromatic Celery Lemon Risotto
1 cup of Arborio rice
6 stalks of celery (from heart) coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon of olive oil or unsalted butter
1/2 cup of dry white wine
1/4 cup of grated Parmesan cheese
4-5 cups of hot water or vegetable broth
1 small red onion, chopped
Zest from 1 Meyer lemon and juice from 3 Meyers
1 cup kale leaves, chopped
Method: Heat the olive oil or butter in a heavy skillet and sauté the celery and onions until translucent. Add the rice, coating the grains with the oil. Stir in the wine over medium heat until absorbed. Cook for 20 minutes, adding juice and the remaining liquid a cup at a time. Stir in kale during last cup of water. Remove from heat. Stir in the cheese and garnish with zest from the lemon and celery leaves. (Serves 5-6)