Celeriac has been known in Scandinavia for centuries, but has been used sparingly, mostly as a flavoring for soups and stews. The root is not widely eaten anywhere else, except in France. Read more about Scandinavian celeriac.
Celeriac is too strong-flavored to become a universal favorite, and it is rarely eaten on its own, bit for those who love it, celeriac is a marvel, and do not mind if it is served as the main vegetable. However, many don’t love it, particularly children. Adults share childhood memories of how celeriac floating among the diced carrots and leeks was the scare of the week. The carrot and leek were acceptable, end edible, but the celeriac was considered nothing but a punishment. Even worse were the celeriac ‘steaks’, a slab of boiled, breaded and fried celeriac that health-conscious housewives believed to be good for you.
Related: Scandinavian vegetables
How it grows
In other parts of the world, a similar taste is achieved by celery, or the herb parsley-celery, or par-cel, which is actually the ancestor of them both.
They are all biennials and umbellifers, like carrots, and will flower in their second year. The celeriac has been selected for its swollen roots, over millennia, and looks very much like celery when growing, except that part of the root above the ground and most growers will mulch the roots to keep them pale. The leaves of celeriac taste like celery, only much stronger, and are very useful as pot-herb, or chopped like parsley and scattered over winter-dishes.
Celeriac is a greedy feeder, and must be sown indoor in February, as it grows extremely slowly.
Related: Scandinavian Poor Man’s Asparagus
Appearance and taste
The taste of celeriac is so overwhelming that it is often used more like a herb than a root. Its flavor, a cross between that of celery and a parsley root, with overtones of parsley leaves and lovage. The root can be used in any size, from tennis-ball to monumental football, like other roots, a very young, small celeriac is the most delicious and tender. The roots have a tendency to become spongy in the middle, due to a lack of minerals while growing, so choose one that is very firm and heavy, with no soft spots. They keep forever wrapped in plastic in the fridge.
Celeriac is used as flavoring in stews, soups and braises; celery adds a similar, but milder flavor, though celery is seldom used in Scandinavia. Celeriac can also be mashed and made into fries and gratins, because of its starchy nature. Try a 50/50 potato-celeriac mash, or include it as part of a mixed root bake.
When raw celeriac has a delicate nutty taste and, if very finely diced, it’s beautiful in a salad. Even children seem to like it raw, or made into chips as an alternative to the more usual potato. These will never become crisp but the frying brings out the sweetness and a caramelized melting quality that children love. They are very good with game,
Coarsely grated, raw celeriac, coated in a vinegary homemade mayonnaise or crème fraiche, spiked with mustard, is a delicious accompaniment for venison, and very good in sandwiches with all kinds of cold cuts. When very young, in late summer, and only the size of a tennis-ball, celeriac can be braised whole in butter, or simmered in stock and served as a very interesting accompaniment for fish and beef, or in their own as a starter. A whole large celeriac is difficult to handle and clean. The roots make up a tangle at the bottom, and if you cut them all off, there is not always much left. The easiest way to clean a celeriac is to cut it into thick slices and peel the slices individually.
Related: Scandinavian Beetroot
Celeriac soup with cardamon
In this soup you get the full advantage of celeriac’s spectacular taste. The topping makes a good spicy contrast to the velvety soup.
1 teaspoon cardamom seeds, picked from whole green pods
2 medium celeriac
2 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon of salted butter
3 heaped tablespoons Madras curry powder
1 liter very strong chicken or fish stock.
Salt and coarsely ground black pepper
for the topping
200ml whipping cream
50g fresh ginger, finely grated
Finely grated zest of 1 orange
Juice of 1 lime
First, whip the cream for the topping in a bowl. Press the juice from the grated ginger by wringing it through a handkerchief, add this with the other seasonings to the cream, which will thicken and be soured by the seasonings. Set aside.
Grind the cardamom seeds to a fine powder.
Rinse the celeriac and leeks and cut into large chunks
Fry the leeks and garlic gently without browning in the butter: when they become translucent and fragrant, add the curry powder and cardamom, and fry a little more.
Add the celeriac and stock and season sparingly with salt and pepper. Add water just to cover the vegetables. If necessary, simmer until the vegetables are very tender.
whizz in a food processor until smooth Adjust the seasoning, then eat while really hot with the cream on top.
Scandinavian Celeriac, written by Tor Kjolberg
Feature image (on top) Photo by coop.no