All photos by Thomas Lawn.
There's a certain beauty to the inside of a red cabbage or a head of romanesco, but as a group, root vegetables aren't much to look at. Celery root - celeriac if you're posh - is far and away the ugliest of the bunch, and it's also my favourite root vegetable of all time. What delights lie beneath its filthy, gnarled hide? Let's find out!
If you can believe it, celery root is the root of the celery plant. Like most root vegetables, it's harvested after the first frost and is available all winter. They're hard to find outside of farmer's markets, CSAs, and grocery stores with an extensive produce selection, so keep that in mind when tracking one down.
Choose celery roots that feel heavy for their size and are minimally pitted; any stalks or leaves attached should look fresh, not wilted or slimy. You'll never find a perfectly smooth specimen, but plumper roots with relatively taut skin will be easier to peel than shrunken, shrivelled ones.
Depending on your palate, celery root tastes like either a nuttier, sweeter, earthier version of celery stalks or a milder, celery-tinged parsnip. Hacking away its tough exterior reveals ivory flesh with a texture quite unlike other root vegetables, which are snappy and crisp when raw. Even fresh out of the ground, celery root doesn't have that characteristic snap; it's softer and more flexible, both literally and figuratively. Imagine a soft apple, like a McIntosh or Golden Delicious, but without any graininess at all. It's kind of like that, crossed with the slightly fibrous structure of a parsnip.
Celery root's unique texture lends itself to any preparation you can throw at it. I've whipped it up with potatoes for a tasty mash, roasted it whole, chopped it up and caramelised it in brown butter, ribboned it with a peeler for fritters, and added trimmings to chicken stock - but my favourite way to eat celery root is raw.
One of my superpowers is winning friends with salad, and this one - julienned celery root and apples tossed with some shallot, hella fresh herbs, and an addictive honey-garlic Dijonnaise - is central to my origin story. I've never brought it anywhere without receiving at least three requests for the recipe, usually from people who were deeply sceptical about it before their first bite.
Celery Root and Apple Slaw
I've been eating celery root prepared this way for seventeen years, which is how long my mum's been getting a CSA box from Roxbury Farm. The year 2000 brought such a bumper crop of celery root that the fine folks at Roxbury Farm included a recipe for a raw salad featuring the weird, knobbly tuber.
Like all the best recipes, a simple way to quickly dispense with several pounds of celery root became a cherished family staple. I no longer have the original recipe, so this is my own (very faithful!) adaptation - I just use quite a bit more parsley, salt, and mayo.
As written, this serves four as a side or two as an entrée. There will be extra dressing, which is intentional; the assembled salad gets waterlogged and sad after 2 days, but the dressing keeps for upwards of a week. Use the leftovers on another batch of this slaw or any sad, lingering salad greens that need to get eaten.
For the dressing
- ½ cup mayonnaise (or vegan mayo)
- ½ cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 clove garlic, peeled
- 1 Tb honey, plus more to taste (maple syrup or brown sugar work, too)
- 1 Tb smooth Dijon mustard, plus more to taste
- 2 tsp fine sea salt (use slightly less table salt or slightly more kosher salt, depending on what you have)
- Lots of freshly cracked black pepper
For the salad
- ½ shallot
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 1 large celery root weighing between 0.75kg - 1kg, thoroughly rinsed and dried
- 1 large apple, any kind (except Red Delicious, which are garbage)
- 1 cup chopped fresh parsley, celery leaves, or a mixture of both
- Salt and pepper, to taste
Make the dressing first. Combine all ingredients except the pepper in a bowl or soup container and process with a stick blender until smooth. (You can also use a regular blender or food processor here.) Taste and add more mustard, honey, and/or salt if needed. This salad should be dressed as lightly as possible, so make sure your dressing is aggressive.
Once you're satisfied with the overall seasoning, crack plenty of black pepper in and stir to combine. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside while you make the salad.
Finely mince half a shallot and place it in a medium mixing bowl. Season with a pinch of salt and the lemon juice; stir to combine.
Next, peel and julienne the celery root. Cut off all the hairy roots and trim the top, then set it on the cutting board root end down. Using a sharp knife - not a vegetable peeler, which cannot handle this task - make vertical cuts down the sides to remove the hard skin. Follow the curves as best you can, but don't sweat it if you end up with something weird and blocky. Check for any remaining brown bits and slice them off.
Set the root on its flattest cut surface and slice it into thin (⅛") planks. (If you've got one, a mandoline works great here.) Grab a pile of planks, stack them neatly on top of each other, then slice into fine julienne. Add to the bowl with the shallots and stir to coat with lemon juice. Repeat until you're out of celery root.
To julienne the apple, make four shallow vertical cuts around the outside to remove some of the skin and partially square it off. Discard these slices - or eat them as a tiny snack - then follow the vertical cuts you made to slice the apple into thin (⅛") planks. When you hit the core, rotate the apple 90º and continue; repeat until you've sliced all the apple. Again, pile the planks on top of each other and slice into fine julienne. Add to the bowl and stir to coat.
Add the fresh chopped herbs to the bowl, toss to combine, and then pour anywhere from a third to half the dressing on top. Taste and season with more salt and pepper if needed. Mix thoroughly, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for a few hours to meld the flavours.
You can serve this with just about anything, though I think it works best as a foil to something super-rich. My mum usually serves this with roast pork tenderloin, and I've been known to pile it on top of pulled pork sandwiches or grilled sausages. For the vegetarian crowd, Pommes Anna, baked mac and cheese, or mushroom bourgignon would be good accompaniments. The hateful January Sinus Golems are tearing through our house at the moment, so we served the slaw next to a giant bowl of homemade chicken noodle soup.
Then again, you could always channel my stepdad and park yourself in front of the T.V. with your own personal mixing bowl of this slaw and a fork. Every salad is an entrée if you try hard and believe in yourself.