Vegetable: Celeriac

A historical root is a new favorite vegetable.

Let me introduce to you a new addition to my list of favorite vegetables: celeriac. (Also called celery root, knob celery, and Apium graveolens var. rapaceum)

It shows up in the autumn in some grocery stores and farmers’ markets: grapefruit-sized roots, covered in a gnarly brown skin in the produce aisle. Looking at it and its high price, I wondered what a cook does with celery root. I never bought one because they are expensive so I ordered seeds instead and planted the seedlings this summer.

As a vegetable gardener, I am always on the lookout for easy-to-grow hardy crops that offer multiple functions in the kitchen, store reasonably well, are nutrient-dense, and of course, taste good. Celery root fits the description perfectly.

Speaking of nutrition: Celery root is an excellent source of potassium, magnesium, vitamins B6, C, & K, and numerous antioxidants. Packed with fiber and a low glycemic index, it is a great addition to a healthy diet.

In the Garden

Celeriac is a slow grower, 100-120 days to maturity. Sow seeds in pots 8-10 weeks before your average last frost date. Germination takes 2-3 weeks. Transplant when 3” tall into a fertile bed (I use composted manure and all-purpose granular fertilizer). Space 12 inches apart in the garden bed. Consistent watering and weeding are key to growing healthy and nutrient-dense vegetables. Fertilize every 3-4 weeks. Keep the developing root covered with soil.

Celeriac's leafy stems can be used as a garnish and in soups.
Celeriac’s leafy stems can be used as a garnish and in soups.

The plant sends up an abundance of dark-green stalks that look like a cross between celery and parsley and taste similarly. You can prune some of the stalks and leaves now and then for use in the kitchen.

I saw no evidence of pests or disease and the plants were not impacted by the weeks of extreme heat in August (a new kind of test for garden crops). The roots can overwinter in snow-free zones so I experimented in my heavy snow zone and planted more seedlings in September in a raised bed with a mini-greenhouse tunnel. August would have been better but I was in a harvest mindset and forgot and my beds were mostly full. I am hopeful for a late winter harvest.

I started harvesting the roots in mid-October, but I now realize I could have started in September. Smaller roots are preferred over larger ones; firm and dense over soft and light. Overmature roots will become fibrous and spongey in the middle (but are still edible). Using a garden fork, gently lift the root and be prepared for witnessing a botanical adaptation of Medusa’s snake hairdo! Prune the dangling roots but leave the green leafy stalks on till you get to the kitchen. (Photo coming – I forgot to take one during the first harvest.)

Since it is a biennial, seed saving is challenging unless you are willing to surrender a large growing area for two years to the cause. 

In the Kitchen

Cut the stalks and offshoots but don’t toss them. They are flavorful and can be used for making stocks. You can also finely chop and sprinkle as a topping on the recipe ideas listed below. Chop and store in the freezer for stock making. I also may try a pesto sauce with them. Stay tuned.

Using a tub of water and a mandatory vegetable brush, spend a bit of time cleaning the roots. The thick snakey-looking roots that encircle the root collect a lot of soil which must be removed if storing the roots. 

Celery root after cleaning
Celery root after cleaning.

To prepare for eating: using a chef’s knife, remove the brown, hairy peel by cutting the top and bottom and then the sides. (Put the peel in the stock-making freezer bag.)

Cut the white flesh as desired. Celeriac will discolor quickly once cut so place in a bowl of acidulated (use a tsp or two of lemon or vinegar) water while waiting to cook.

Storage: My research recommended refrigeration in a plastic bag, in the vegetable crisper for up to three weeks. The goal is to keep the root firm by helping it retain its water. For the first harvest, I dug up six celeriac roots, used two for my Roasted Garlic, Potato & Celeriac Soup, and currently have two in the refrigerator, and two in my make-do root cellar (unheated spare bedroom). Six mature roots are still in the ground and I plan to harvest them for a holiday gratin.

Freezing is not recommended as it changes the texture.

Celeriac can be eaten raw and cooked.

Celeriac is an example of how growing vegetables influences how we cook. I spent a couple of hours looking through my cookbooks and online sites and found a variety of recipes that featured this little-known vegetable. The number of diverse ways celeriac can be used sealed the deal for me and celeriac moved to my favorite vegetable list.

  • Soups & Stews (try my Roasted Garlic, Potato & Celeriac Soup)
  • Casseroles
  • Mashed with potatoes & latkes
  • Puree base for lentils, greens
  • Roasted Vegetables
  • Gratins, mixed with potatoes
  • Spiralized as noodles (they are sturdy enough to hold up a thick meat sauce)
  • Julienned & raw as part of a vegetable platter
  • Shredded for coleslaw and salads

You will find some delicious recipes at Epicurious

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