When Life Gives You Celery, Make Celery Salt
Inspired in part by the recent New York Times article about eating your “veggie offal,” as I call it (or “whole animal, vegan-style,” as Rob calls it) and in part by a post on Heidi Swanson’s site, 101 Cookbooks, I decided to face my antipathy about “true” farmer’s market celery by making celery salt. (By “true” farmer’s market celery, I mean the kind that has a deep green color, an abundance of leaves, and thinner stalks.) Although I admit that this type of celery has a truer, more assertive flavor, I’m not a fan of the tough stalks. I’ve braised it in the past, Marcella Hazan-style, but the dish didn’t excite me. So although I’ve made salsa verde from the leaves with satisfactory results, I groan a bit inside whenever celery arrives in my CSA box.
Recently, I was clicking through the San Francisco-based 101 Cookbooks, and came upon a post in which Heidi makes celery salt. As much as I’m a huge fan of 101 Cookbooks and Heidi’s recipes, I felt my color rising a bit when I read what Heidi said about celery salt:
“A few weeks back I mentioned I like it sprinkled on this corn soup. It’s just as good on buttered corn-on-the cob, in yogurt, sprinkled over eggs. This time of year its great on things like macaroni salad, or egg salad, this shaved fennel salad, or this buttermilk farro salad. I bet it’d be great on Sara’s Green bean salad, or Deb’s Israeli salad. You get the idea.”
Um yeah, hi, what about hot dogs??
Then, as I was a little puzzled at the sight of the puny, yellow celery leaves Heidi was using to make her celery salt, I read her admonition:
“You have to find celery with leaves still intact. You’ll likely have more luck at farmers’ markets, but I’ve noticed more and more grocers sparing leaves from the trash. Also, leaves hide. You’ll find more and more as you work your way from outside stalks to inside ones.”
You have to work your way from outside stalks to inside ones just to find enough celery leaves? Huh? Given our use of the quaint seasoning on the ubiquitous Chicago-style hot dog, and the abundance of great celery at farmer’s markets and in CSA boxes, it was at this moment that I realized, us Chicagoans are uniquely positioned to enjoy homemade celery salt. Just look at our celery (this bunch is from my Angelic Organics CSA box):
This celery was made for the job. So, after I carefully washed the leaves and dried them well with a towel, I meticulously picked off the leaves and placed them on a sheet pan. After I was done using the oven for something else, I shut off the oven and allowed the residual heat to dry out the leaves. I didn’t want any moisture left, but I didn’t want them coloring to yellow or brown. It only took a few minutes — I kept an eye on the leaves, and removed them from the oven when they looked like this:
Then I crumbled the leaves with my hands and mixed them in a bowl with approximately 2 oz. of Portuguese sea salt:
The fresh celery smell is so alluring. I can imagine it seasoning a variety of foods (hmmm, maybe Heidi was onto something there), but yes, charred or steamed hot dogs would be my first use.
So what did I do with the stems? (In an odd turn, it’s the stems that are now the veggie offal, and the leaves the most desirable part.) I slipped them into a Ziploc and put them into the freezer. A few stalks, although limp and gnarly, will flavor a future homemade stock quite well.
Any other ideas for using celery?