Ingredient of the Week: Celery
Celery comes from the same family of plants as parsnip, fennel and surprisingly parsley. It consists of long, thick stalks clustered together around a central base or heart. Raw, it is very crunchy and juicy with a bitter taste, which softens and mellows when cooked. Colour wise it varies from white to green, the darker the colour, the stronger the taste. Personally I find, although nutritionally better for me, raw celery is not really my cup of tea, as I find the flavour too strong. However, I don’t mind it when cooked. Typically people think of celery as a food only eaten by people trying to lose weight, as it is so low in calories and high in fibre, but there is so much more to this crunchy vegetable. It is commonly added to soups, stews and stocks for flavouring, and the seeds can also be used for flavouring as well.
Why is it good for me?
Although celery contains very few calories, making it appear a bit like a nothing vegetable, it does contain many vitamins and minerals. You can find small amounts of vitamin A, C, E and K, as well as several of the B vitamins. Minerals that are found in celery include calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium and zinc. None of them appear in particularly high amounts, but they all have an impact on your overall health and wellbeing. Further to this, celery also contains many phytonutrients, thus increasing the health benefits. These all combine to mean that celery has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and immune boosting qualities. This can have an impact on your digestive system, your heart health, your blood cholesterol levels, your nervous system and your eye health, as well as your risk of developing cancer.
What celery is incredibly high in is fibre, in particular non-starch based fibres, which can’t be digested by the body and help to provide bulk to stools and stop blockages forming and building up in the large intestine. This has a knock on impact of helping to lower your risk of developing colon cancer. The specific fibre found in celery has also shown potential benefits in helping to protect the stomach lining and prevent stomach ulcers from forming.
Another health benefit of celery is that it is a diuretic. This helps prevent water retention in the body, keeps your kidneys functioning well and helps flush out toxins, in particular uric acid, from the body. This can have a knock on effect on pain relief for people suffering from arthritis, as it helps prevent swelling forming around effected joints. The removal of uric acid can also prevent and treat urinary tract infections and cystitis. Further to this, celery seeds have been found to contain antibiotic qualities, potentially making them a natural remedy for these conditions.
How do I prepare it?
Firstly, snap the stalks away from the central heart using your hands. The outer stalks tend to be better for cooking with and the inner ones are slightly more tender, so better for eating raw. Then trim the ends and rinse in cold water. If the stalks are particularly tough, then peel away the outer fibres using your fingers or a potato peeler. The leaves that are sometimes attached to the end of celery stalks can be added in to a salad rather than just discarding them. Finally, slice the stalks to the required size and eat or cook as you wish.
How do I cook it?
Celery can be boiled, braised, stir-fried or steamed. Steaming is the healthiest way to cook it, as this method retains most of its nutritional value, whereas the other cooking methods do tend to decrease its nutritional content somewhat, so this is something to bare in mind if you are relying on it for its nutrients alone. The best way to eat it is raw, in a salad, but you can also add it to a smoothie or juice. It pairs very well with carrot and apple, but you don’t want to use too much, as the flavour will become overpowering. Salad suggestions include diced up and mixed with tuna, added to some carrot and cabbage or the classic waldorf salad, a mix of celery, apple, walnuts and grapes, dressed in mayonaise.
Although celery really isn’t one of my favourite vegetables, I do actually really enjoy it in this caponata recipe. I’ve also used it in my take on a ministrone soup. Both my Cajun recipes for gumbo and jambalaya make use of it as well. If you need more inspiration, then try swapping the radish for it in my cabbage and radish stir-fry or add it to this chorizo risotto.
My favourite celery recipe is hands down this chicken creole one. It was this recipe after all that encouraged me to like cooking with celery. I only use a couple of stalks generally in a recipe, so there are always a few left over. If you are looking for ideas to use up any leftovers, then its great diced in to a bolognese or in the mince base for a cottage pie.
Although celery itself is not one of my favourite vegetables, there are still plenty of ways to include it in my diet and enjoy eating it. You won’t ever find me chomping down on a celery stick for a snack, or using it to dip in to humous or anything like that, but I don’t cut it out of my diet completely. If you have any interesting recipes including celery, then please share in the comments below.
Thank you for reading and speak soon.