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Celery versus celeriac: what’s the difference?

Members of same family, but celeriac is a variety of celery

  DEBORAH LEE WALKER ¦ Contributing Writer

(Oct. 5, 2012) The question of the day: are celery and celeriac the same? Celery root, or celeriac, and celery are members of the same family, but celeriac is a special variety of celery that is cultivated especially for its large root.

The history of celeriac dates back thousands of years. It is believed to come from Egypt and into our culinary history via Southern Europe. Apium graveolens was originally used for medicinal and religious purposes. It was not until the 17th century that celery root was cultivated as a food product.

Do not be judgmental the first time you are introduced to this member of the Apiaceae family. The root’s ugly duckling appearance — brown overtones and bumpy exterior — does not exactly excite one’s palette. But once the tough skin is peeled, an impeccable, white delight emerges.

The root vegetable has a distinctive taste that can be described as a cross between celery and parsley with a nutty twist. It does not contain as much water as its cousin, celery, and the texture is similar to potatoes. The subtlety of the flavor makes it a perfect pairing with numerous ingredients.

Celeriac is grown during the cool season and is in its prime in the fall. The growing period is long and can take up to 200 days to fully mature. When fully grown, the portion of the plant, which grows above the ground, looks much like common celery.

When selecting celeriac in the store, consumers should look for a smooth service with no soft spots. Soft areas indicate decay.

Another way to determine if celery root is fresh is to simply pick it up and feel for heaviness. If the root is dry, it will be very light in weight.

Because the roots and dirt-filled crevices have been trimmed away, you will lose at least a quarter during the peeling process. Usually, one pound of celeriac will yield about two cups.

Once peeled, celery root tends to discolor and oxidize quickly. Many cooks marinade it with lemon juice. Celery root can be eaten raw or cooked. Its diversity is a key factor when planning a menu.

Celery root puree is a popular choice on top chef competitions. Celeriac is also trendy in French, Italian and Asian cooking. Celeri remoulade is a classic French dish I have had the pleasure of sampling. Celeriac should not be thicker than a matchstick cutting. Lemon juice, homemade mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, crème fraiche and parsley are the main components. Of course, variations are part of a chef’s repertoire and always welcomed.

Celeriac can be purchased online and some upscale food markets carry the product. If you are heading to the Bay Bridge, Wholefoods Market in Annapolis stocks it.

Apple, fennel and celeriac make a refreshing fall salad. The fennel adds an anise flavor, which contrasts nicely with the tartness of the Granny Smith apples. Walnut adds extra crunch while raisins sweeten the salad.

Apple, Fennel and Celeriac Slaw 1/2 cup mayo 1/2 cup Greek yogurt 2 tablespoons Dijon 1 tablespoon cider vinegar 1 teaspoon celery seed 1 small bulb celeriac (cut into matchstick sizes) 2 Granny Smith apples (cut into matchstick sizes) 1/2 bulb fennel, cut into matchstick sizes 1/4 cup combined chopped walnuts and raisins Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Secret Ingredient: Variety. “Variety is the very spice of life; that gives it all its flavor” … William Cowper.

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