Celery Root is Our Friend

Celery root, or celeriac, is to leafy stalk celery as, say, onions are to chives. They’re in the same family, yes (parsley/carrot family), but the resemblance gets kind of sketchy from there. I suppose you could cut the top off the celeriac, like a carrot, and sprout leaves for decoration, but that’s not the part you eat. The gnarly, knobby root is the part you hack and wack at, revealing a creamy aromatic center from which to culinate (culinate?)…

“help me…. pleeeeeze!”

“ohhh nooooo!”

Referencing from the book Edible – An Illustrated Guide to the World’s Food Plants (published by National Geographic, Washington, D.C.), celeriac – Apium graveolens var. rapaceum – was “developed from traditional celery in areas around the Mediterranean sometime in the late 1500s to early 1600s” by breeding celery plants sporting enlarged roots. By the 1700s this ugly duckling root vegetable was popular throughout Europe, but never took off too well in the United States, until recently that is. This root takes up to 200 days to grow to full maturity, which makes it difficult to grow in northern climates, although some shorter day varieties do exist. Stalk celery, sometimes called smallage, can still be found growing wild in the Mediterranean region and warmer Asian climes; it is much smaller and more bitter than the juicy stalks we are accustomed to, but is nevertheless the real thing.

Cooking with celery root is only as challenging as getting your heavy-duty chef’s knife to carefully split it down the center in order to pare away at the thick peel. Be careful! I love how it’s tentacle-like smaller rootlets swirl and curl, looking not unlike some sort of sea-creature. The smell is aromatic, starchy yet celery-like. Once cooked, the aroma lessens a bit, and adds a nice, velvety texture to the soup or stew you’re fixing. Which is what we’ll be doing here.

If you have read my book The Wild & Weedy Apothecary then you’ll be familiar with making chicken soup stock/broth. If not (get on with it!), just follow along with me here and the soup will turn out just fine. You can purchase organic chicken stock at most grocery stores; if you can’t find organic, look for broth without MSG or other nasty chemicals. Check for sodium content as well.

What I’m making here is simply an incarnation of regular old chicken soup, but this soup is to be served for supper, so it needs some body. Let’s get started.



As you can see, I’ve peeled and pared half a celery root, part of a carrot, and half a red onion (what I had on hand). I have had to teach myself to cut the veggies into larger pieces because they can simmer their way down into baby-food if cut too small!

So, now we’re sautéing the onions in olive oil, along with whole garlic cloves (I hope there’s enough) in my fabulous Staub “cocotte”. It’s a smallish 5-litre enameled cast iron “dutch oven” which is the perfect size for me and my mate; the black matte enamel finish on the inside is bitchin! I like to sauté onions before adding to soup because I don’t like a “raw onion” flavor. Then we add the carrots and celeriac to the medley.
I told you about chicken broth, that’s what those frozen chunks are in the pan, 2 pints of broth thawing in 2 pints of water. I keep a lot of broth in the freezer, I use it all the time. If you don’t have a freezer separate from your fridge, then invest in a slow cooker and keep some soup broth going! Read the chapter in my book called “C is for Chicken Soup – for beginners”!


I also added 2 tablespoons of wild rice to the soup. I love the stuff. Stir in well. Bring the soup to a boil, reduce to a gentle blub-blub simmer, and leave it alone for about 20 minutes. Check and stir. Let this go for another 30-40 minutes.

Well, of course there’s chicken in the soup – I’m using leftovers! In addition to meat from the leg and wing, I decided to cube up a potato since I want leftovers of the soup… sometimes I don’t make enough. 

I’ve also chopped up 2 small bok choys and a handful of cilantro leaf. Add the potato, chicken and the greens now (save a pinch of cilantro to add later). 
Bring back to a boil, reduce to simmer again, and cook until potato is done, about 20 minutes. Toss in the reserved pinch of cilantro. Serve with bread or what have you… I used blue corn tortilla chips.
Did I add any herbs or seasonings? Yes, salt & pepper of course. A pinch of dried thyme leaf. Garlic powder (yes, in addition to the garlic cloves). A dash of golden balsamic vinegar, both for flavor and to tone down the sweetness of the veggies. (I use balsamic vinegar they way I might use wine in cooking, just not as much.) More salt. That’s about it. The broth is already flavorful, and I wanted to make this Celery Root Soup, not cover up the flavor with too many seasonings.
You may also ask, did I measure out any ingredients for this soup? Are you kidding me? No. I never measure ingredients for soup, unless I’m actually following a special recipe for the first time. I just don’t. I “go” by what we like, and so should you.

How does it look? Kind of like regular ol’ chicken soup. How does it taste. Not like regular ol’ soup… it tastes sweet but not sweet. To my palate, it has a delightful, aromatic balanced flavor. The slight bitterness of celery is mellowed by the sweet, the pungent, the golden.

I remember reading a Chinese cooking book many years ago which talked about flavors: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and “golden”, which I would equate with “umami” or “savory mouth-feel”.  Uh-huh. Some flavorologists would also add metallic and pungent to this list of flavors our tongue can distinguish, but pungent might be considered less of a flavor and more of a physiological response. As we all know, aromas are not merely physical sensations, but also and more importantly psychological connections – especially to memories!

Once you taste this soup, you will remember that Celery Root, or Celeriac, is not to be ignored in the produce section of your grocery store, or farmer’s market if you live somewhere with a long enough growing season. Let it’s somewhat homely exterior soften your heart like a bulldog pup – you gotta love it!