Celeriac, that unlovely step-sister of the root vegetable family, has not been made more popular in the US merely by bestowing upon her a Downtown Abbey-esque name. In fact, the French term for celery root has been around – even on this side of the pond – well before the advent of television itself. But somehow pragmatic Americans seem to favor the truth of the matter – the baseball-sized , brownish, pock-marked lumps that you find on produce shelves inevitably are labeled just what they are: Celery root. Nomenclature aside, the burgeoning foodie market’s natural curiosity is what’s driving better supermarkets to stock this gnarly winter vegetable.
Cut it open and you get creamy flesh that looks like a turnip and emits the most delectable scent of artichoke, carrot and, yes, celery, which, after all, is what the root nurtures above ground as it grows. Not your conventional celery that bunches and blanches, producing crispy, cucumber-textured stalks that we use in so many ways. Rather, the rougher country cousin of that staple, strong and coarse enough to stay out of most soups and chicken salad concoctions in favor of the compost pile – or feeding the pigs or chickens as we used to do back in the day when Adrienne was raising such in rural Virginia.
And those who do experiment with celery root discover a new favorite – a creamy winter soup using a couple of the bulbous tubers along with its green counterpart and a fat onion, simmered in stock and then pureed with the dairy – or non – of your choice, makes a winter night a joy to weather. Oven-roasting along with whatever strikes your fancy at that moment – or by itself – brings out celeriac’s innate sweetness (yes, the humble vegetable aims to please), and mashed with a handful of potatoes brings a whole new meaning to our beloved “mash,” side dish of choice to elegant winter roasts and rich stews.
But here we are preparing it virginally – the celery root is raw, dressed in an unusual vinaigrette using preserved lemons, pickled in salt for a number of weeks, resulting a smoky, nutty, undefinable “umami” – that elusive fifth estate of the palate which, when experienced, brings it all home in a “Ta daah!” moment. But it doesn’t end there – the preserved lemon (widely available in international grocery stores and increasingly in supermarkets, but if you can’t find it check out this link) is combined with lemon juice, creme fraiche for a swooning creaminess and poppy seeds for subtle texture and beauty, plus walnuts for crunch. The dish is garnished with pomegranate arils for eye candy as much as the lovely little pop of sweetness in the mouth.
So go for it – discover a whole new winter salad. (Found in The Washington Post, originally from the book “A Boat, a Whale & a Walrus: Menus and Stories,” and adapted here by Adrienne for a demos at Brookside Gardens and the US Botanic Garden January 2015.)
Make ahead: You can prep all your salad ingredients in advance; store the prepped celery root in a bowl or tub of chilled water with a dash of white vinegar. This will prevent discoloration.
Peel of 1 preserved lemon cut into julienne (very thin strips)
Scant 1 C crème fraîche
2 T fresh lemon juice
1 t minced shallot
1 T poppy seeds
1 C extra-virgin olive oil
For the salad:
2 baseball-size celeriac, peeled (1-2 pounds total)
1 C walnut halves, toasted
1 C picked celery leaves (from the heart of 1 bunch celery)
½ C celery stalk, sliced very thin on the diagonal (about 2 stalks)
2 t poppy seeds
¾ C fresh pomegranate seeds (arils)
Extra-virgin olive oil
Flaked sea salt, such as Maldon
For the vinaigrette: Combine the preserved lemon peel, crème fraîche, lemon juice, shallot and poppy seeds in a food processor; pulse until the solids are finely chopped. With the motor running, gradually add the oil to form a creamy emulsion.
For the salad: Use a mandolin or sharp knife to shave the celeriac into wide, 1/8-inch-thick slices; Put them in a large bowl, along with the sliced celery root. Toss with enough vinaigrette to coat. Add about three-quarters of the walnuts, crushing some of them with your fingers as you work them in.
Transfer the mixture to a large platter. Garnish with the celery leaves, poppy seeds and pomegranate seeds and remaining walnuts. Serve at room temperature, drizzled with oil and garnished with the flaked salt.