Down & Dirty: Celery

March  8, 2012

Every week we get Down & Dirty, in which Nozlee Samadzadeh breaks down our favorite seasonal fruits, vegetables, and more by the numbers.

From the hyperseasonal (ramps and strawberries are just around the corner!) to the unusual (ever wondered how cardoons are grown?), to the quotidien (kitchen workhorses like leeks and garlic), we'll be highlighting our favorite fruits and vegetables every week on Feed52. This week, at the request of mrslarkin, it's all about celery! (Have you contributed to our contest yet?)

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1. In the Garden: First we head to the garden. For a variety of reasons, celery can be a challenge to grow for the home gardener. To start, the seeds are tiny -- so tiny that planting them directly into your garden will just give you a headache come time to thin your seedlings. Instead, it's best to start them out in soil blocks or small containers with just 2-4 seeds per block. That way, when they poke their heads out of the soil, it'll be easy to keep the strongest seedlings and discard the rest.

Another challenge for celery growers is the conditions they require: without lots and lots of water (after all, it's most of what those crispy stalks are made of), well-draining and compost-rich soil (like Amy's soil tips in this week's City Dirt!), and relatively cool growing conditions, your celery can become stringy and tough. It's a slow-growing plant -- about 4 months from seed to stalk -- and needs depth for its root structure, prohibiting container gardening.

2. In the Kitchen: But hey! Even if it's not the easiest vegetable to grow on your own, around the kitchen it's an essential. Once you finally harvest your celery, every bit of it is useful. Along with carrots and onions, the chopped stalks are a member of the holy triumverate of the mirepoix, the French saute base for soups and stews -- and no Thanksgiving stuffing is complete without those half-moons of stalk. The leaves look festive poking out a pitcher of Bloody Marys, or you can follow the lead of 101 Cookbooks' Heidi Swanson (our Piglet People's Choice Award winner!) and make homemade celery salt. As for the pale and tender inner stalks -- the celery heart -- you can't go wrong with the couscous dish that Amanda's husband made her when they were dating (fans of Cooking for Mr Latte, you know the one I mean).

And dare I forget to mention Ants on a Log, the quintessential playdate snack? (For the uninitiated, a recipe: fill a stalk of celery with peanut butter -- that's the "log" -- and dot it with raisins -- the "ants" -- then serve to happy children.)

There's so much more: the sharper flavor of Chinese celery, celery in homemade green juice, the Italian dish of blanched celery baked in tomato sauce (see the latest Canal House cookbook!)...

How do you cook with celery? Any special plants you'd like to see featured as the Fruit or Vegetable of the Week?

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • cosmiccook
  • MtIdaho
  • Devangi Raval
    Devangi Raval
  • ChefJune
  • Panfusine
I'm Nozlee Samadzadeh, a writer, editor, farmer, developer, and passionate home cook. Growing up Iranian in Oklahoma, working on a small-scale organic farm, and cooking on a budget all influence the way I cook -- herbed rice dishes, chicken fried steak, heirloom tomato salad, and simple poached eggs all make appearances on my bright blue kitchen table. I love to eat kimchi (homemade!) straight from the jar and I eat cake for breakfast.


cosmiccook June 5, 2022
One of our faves!!!
cosmiccook June 5, 2022
I hope you also include Celeriac & fennel! While Celeriac is horribly expensive in the U.S., I still love it!
MtIdaho March 11, 2012
I was once served a winter salad in Rome that was simply sliced celery, corn kernels and sliced black olives tossed in a little oil and lemon juice, and topped with shaved parmesan curls. It was colorful, different, and delicious, and I've never forgotten it.
Nozlee S. March 11, 2012
That sounds DELICIOUS! It's not too late to try to replicate the salad and submit it to our Celery contest...:)
Devangi R. March 9, 2012
Lot of us are not aware the health or medicinal properties of celery seeds , they are very helpful in the form of homemade medicine for gout, arthritis, or muscle cramps and many other problems. I don't like celery seeds as much as the stalks or fresh celery. But, for health reasons do not mind a cup of celery seed tea. Simple and easy....
orlenda March 11, 2012
well i was tauught when it comes to essential oils-the ones that you dont care for the smell of, are the ones you need! maybe its that way with celery seed?

i love naturopathic foods....healing thrlough good nurtition....
ChefJune March 9, 2012
The kidlets I feed occasionally prefer their "ants" to be chocolate chips. I wish I had been the one who thought of that!

I love celery. and I love to introduce my diners to dishes like Essence of Celery Soup and Braised Celery. They are always surprised.
Panfusine March 9, 2012
love crunching up celery, no reason needed!
as for challenging vegetables..May I dare you to try & get away with showcasing unusual ones like... Bitter Melon?
Nozlee S. March 9, 2012
I'm planning an entire week dedicated to cucurbits in all their forms (melons, cucumbers, summer squash, and more) this summer!
cosmiccook June 5, 2022
I'm working on reverse engineering a recipe from our recent Portugal trip. It was Gazpacho w cucumber sorbet. While the Gazpacho was good--that cucumber sorbet was divine. Served w the Sorbet, chopped grape & anchovy; the sorbet tasted sweet despite the waiters insistence it was just mint, cukes, lemon, water & ice. Would LOVE to see a recipe like this. Also thinking of a grape sorbet for Ajoblanco. Thoughts, suggestions?
mrslarkin March 8, 2012
Thank you, Nozlee, for showcasing this under-appreciated veggie! Admittedly, I'm not a huge fan of celery, but I'm not a hater either.

Have you guys ever tried lovage?? It's sorta kinda related to celery, but different, in more of an herby way. Made a lovage syrup last summer to pour into prosecco. Yummm.
Nozlee S. March 8, 2012
You're right -- I ran out of space to talk about lovage, which is not related to celery but shares its flavor! My favorite thing about lovage is that it's HOLLOW. You can use them as fancy straws for small drinks! Your lovage syrup sounds...wait for it...lovely. (Pun intended!)
BoulderGalinTokyo March 10, 2012
Mrslarkin, thank you for recommending celery- I love the flavor, color, texture, and even the shape- sliced celery is distinctive!
Kristen M. March 8, 2012
I love celery salads with briny, relishy things like olives and preserved lemon, and the way that cooked celery soaks up all the flavor of a broth or sauce. But it's true! Celery boats or logs or whatever jammed with peanut butter never worked on me as a kid.
Kristy M. March 8, 2012
I'm pro celery! And have never had a problem with ants on a log.
Nozlee S. March 8, 2012
A discussion just exploded in our offices about who likes and hates celery! I can't stand the stuff, to be honest, but Miranda loves it.

And if you can believe it, Kristen as a child hated Ants on a Log not for the celery, but for the peanut butter!