Food this month

Celeriac, with its subtle flavour and nutty overtones, provides the “crunch” in a salad. Photo: Taegan Gell

Celery and celeriac – the stalk and the root

By Carolyn Best

Selinute, the largest archaeological site in Europe, lies on the southwest coast of Sicily. There lie the temple, acropolis and agora of one of the most progressive and eminent cities of Magna Graecia. The dignified ruins, built according to strict Doric order, have lain abandoned for 2,500 years, ever since the town was sacked in 409 BCE by the Carthaginians, who perceived it as a threat to their control of Sicily. Half the inhabitants of Selinute were massacred and the remainder were taken into slavery, extinguishing one of the most flourishing Greek colonies in the Mediterranean.

The name of this lost city derives from the ancient Greek word for wild celery, which grew there in great quantities. Selinute was so linked to wild celery that its coinage, the didrachma, depicted the plant’s distinctive leaf. Celery, a lover of marshes and salty soils, is a plant of the Mediterranean, where it has been known for millennia. In the Iliad, Homer describes the horses of the Myrmidons – the soldiers commanded by Achilles – grazing on wild celery in the wetlands around Troy. The Greeks considered celery to be ruled by Selene, the goddess of the moon, and called it selinon, meaning “moon plant.”

For the Greeks, and later the Romans, the value of celery was medicinal rather than nutritional. They collected the seeds as blood purifiers and anti-rheumatic agents to promote healthy sleep and calm the nervous system. Celery remained solely in the domain of the medicinal world until the sixteenth century, when Italian agriculturalists began to grow it domestically. The plant was first used mainly as a flavouring, but as ways to ameliorate its bitter taste were developed, cultivation spread rapidly into France and northern Europe. For a long period, celery remained a luxury item, a fashionable food that adorned the tables of the wealthy and served as the centrepiece of every aristocratic dinner. Middle-class families were unable to afford it on a regular basis and served celery only at holiday meals. Every privileged household in the Victorian era possessed a glass celery vase – a tall, tulip-shaped bowl atop a pedestal that was kept on prominent display and used nightly. No dining room in any first-class hotel lacked an ostentatious display of this symbol of social and financial success; celery even graced the dining tables of the Titanic as she sank beneath the Atlantic waves.

Today we think more prosaically of celery as an every-day vegetable, yet it remains an essential item in several world cuisines. Celery is one of three crucial components of the French mirepoix, the diced vegetable base for countless soups and sauces and likewise of soffrito, its Italian equivalent. Along with onions and bell peppers, celery is also part of the “holy trinity” that forms the foundation of the Creole and Cajun cooking of Louisiana.

As the stalks of wild celery were encouraged to grow longer and less pungent by sowing the plants in troughs and blanching the stems, other farmers encouraged the growth of the root to produce a bulb known as celeriac. Described as “the unsung frog prince of winter vegetables,” celeriac is knobby and coloured an indistinct brown. Yet within this unpromising exterior, the root’s ivory flesh possesses a subtle and highly agreeable flavour with nutty overtones. Celeriac, which unlike most root vegetables is only about five-per-cent starch, provides crunch in a salad and delightful flavour in a mash or stew. Without doubt, this delicious and underrated root deserves to be better known in our kitchens.

Carolyn Best is the former proprietor/chef of The Pantry vegetarian tearoom, and a regular Glebe Report contributor on food

Celeriac Salad

Celeriac is difficult to peel so cut the outside away as you would with an old rutabaga or turnip. Then grate (coarsely) on a cheese grater and toss with the following dressing (already prepared so that the celeriac does not have time to oxidize).

1 celeriac root
¼ cup olive oil
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp mayonnaise
¼ tsp salt
Sprinkling of black pepper

Combine the above ingredients in a jar and shake well. Pour over the grated celeriac, with perhaps a little chopped parsley for colour.

Almond and Celery Salad

1 bunch of celery, or ½ bunch celery and 1 English cucumber
¾ cup almond (or peanut) butter
¼ cup tamari
Dash of cayenne (to taste)
boiling water

Mix the dressing ingredients until smooth, creamy and thick. If the salad is not to be consumed right away, use less water to compensate for water extracted from the celery and cucumber. Chop up the celery, and cucumber if using, and combine with the dressing. Decorate the top with tiny pieces of red pepper, if desired.


Chicken curry as found in Romain Saha’s blog, Glebekitchen.com Photo: Romain Saha

Glebekitchen’s simple chicken curry

By Marisa Romano

October marks the third anniversary of Glebekitchen.com, a blog with a lavish collection of extraordinary recipes and eye-popping images of mouth-watering dishes.

The blogger, Romain Saha, prepares all those dishes in his kitchen in the Glebe, then he takes the photos from a set up in a corner of his dining room just before bringing them to the dinner table.

“Life is too short for bad food” is the tag line in his blog and with this in mind Saha seeks to teach people how to cook restaurant-quality food at home. “The blog is not about me,” he said when we met for a chat. “It is all about the food.” The recipes that he posts are not for beginner cooks but the detailed directions should enable anyone to reproduce them. “Cooking is not difficult,” he asserts.

With a respectable two million views a year, the “little-Glebe-kitchen-that-can” is reaching more and more tables around the globe, mainly in the U.K., the U.S., Canada, Australia and India, according to his web statistics. The message is getting through.

With a new post every Monday, a Facebook page, a Pinterest account and a presence on YouTube, you might think that Saha is a professional chef, but no. He has a full-time job with a high-tech company and loves it. “Cooking is my hobby,” he says. Or an obsession? “Maybe yes,” he admits. His cookbook collection exceeds a thousand titles.

Hobby or not, we thank Saha for sharing it and his wife Sheila for waiting for the perfect photo before digging in.

From his blog, Saha picked a simple chicken curry recipe to share with the Glebe Report. “This recipe speaks to my roots and the biggest culinary focus of glebekitchen,” he explains. And perhaps Glebe kitchens will smell of curry a little more often.

Glebekitchen’s Chicken Curry

Ingredients

Spice Mix

1 tbsp coriander powder
2 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp turmeric powder
1/2-1 tsp chili powder depending how hot you like it
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp kosher salt to start 

Simple Chicken Curry

4 tbsp vegetable oil plus
1 one-inch piece of cinnamon bark
or cinnamon stick
8 green cardamom pods
1 large cooking onion, finely diced
1 tbsp tomato paste
3 cloves garlic
1 one-inch piece of ginger
2 plum tomatoes, seeded and diced
3 green chilis, seeded and diced
(or 1 jalapenõ, seeded and diced)
8 chicken thighs, bone-in, skinless
1/2 cup chicken stock

Directions

Make the masala.
Make your mix powder. Combine all the ground spices with the salt.
Use a food processor to finely chop the onion. It takes two seconds and it works way better. You are looking for a really fine dice. Almost a paste.
Now use your food processor (it’s already dirty so this comes for free) to make a garlic ginger paste. Combine the garlic and ginger with a bit of water and whiz until you have a puree. If you have a big food processor you may have to make more to get it to work or use a blender (more dishes though).
Heat 3 tbsp oil in a 4-5 quart pot. Add the cinnamon and cardamom and cook about 20-30 seconds. The spices should sizzle.
Crank up your fan hood to max. Really. Full blast time…
Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally until they take on a golden brown colour. You want them soft. Really soft. Take your time here. This is the critical step.
Add the fourth tbsp of oil and your spice mix. Watch the heat. You don’t want your spices to burn. Stir constantly for about a minute, then add the tomato paste, green chilies and garlic ginger paste.
Continue to stir and cook another minute. Stir in the chopped plum tomatoes.

Make the curry
Add the skinned chicken thighs to the pot, stir and add 1/2 cup of stock or water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer about 25 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through.
Adjust salt to taste. I expect probably another 1/2 tsp if you are using kosher salt. Probably not at all if you are using table salt.

Notes
I use an Indian chili powder called mild kashmiri. If you can’t get that (or don’t want to bother) go with 1/3-1/2 tsp cayenne topped up with enough paprika to make 1 tsp.
For more detailed notes, check the blog: glebekitchen.com/simple-chicken-curry/

Marisa Romano is a foodie and scientist with a sense of adventure who appreciates interesting and nutritious foods that bring people together.

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