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Celery is one of those vegetables that you can always find in your refrigerator— when it is too late. Delicious when fresh, if not stored properly it wilts quickly and loses flavor. And you have to buy a whole head, even if you are one person. Fortunately, celery is flexible and cooked or raw, adds flavor and vitamins to many different recipes.
Celery has grooves and leaves where dirt, sand and insects collect, and must be cleaned carefully. That’s another reason it often lies neglected in the vegetable bin.
Some experts say that you can store celery for up to a month, wrapping it in aluminum foil. But I find that with good planning, I can use up a fresh head of celery within a week. My methods will work for smaller families, but sometimes it’s best sense to share with a friend.
Choose a celery head with green stalks and bright green leaves. Once leaves begin to lose color, they lose flavor. It should also feel heavy. Older celery weighs less because it has lost most of its moisture, and the stalks splay out. Examine some internal stalks for black, brown, soft spots, or holes from insect infestation. Don’t confuse celery with celery root or celeriac, a tasty but dirty knob-shaped vegetable. Celery seed is sold as a spice.
Prepare fresh celery as soon as you can. Having cleaned and cut celery on hand increases the chance that you will use it. Celery dries out quickly, and washing will remove any insects that are also interested in your produce.
Cut off and discard a thin layer from the bottom of the celery. Separate the stalks, working your way from the outside toward the smallest, palest stalks in the center. These are delicious fresh.
Soak stalks in water for a few minutes to loosen the dirt. Then use a vegetable brush, paying attention to the ridges of the bottom of the stalks, and the base of the smaller branches at the time. Look for signs of insect infestation, like holes in the leaves or indentations on the inner curves of the stalks. Cut away the damaged part of the celery and look out for webbing or black spots in the rest of the celery.
Once the celery is clean, you can use it in your recipe. If you want to store it in the refrigerator, shake off as much water as you can from the stalks and leaves. then dry carefully by laying the stalks in a single layer on a towel on your counter or table. Celery leaves are dense and take a while to dry, so turn them over occasionally and replae with a dry towel if necessary. Keep the dry celery parts in a closed container, bag, or jar along with a cloth to soak up excess moisture.
To freeze fresh celery for cooking, lay damp leaves or stalks next to each other, but not touching, on a flat cookie sheet. Place the cookie sheet uncovered into the freezer. After a few hours when the celery has frozen, put the pieces into a bag or container and keep in the freezer. When you are making a soup or stew, remove as much as you need. Even the green leaves will have the flavor of fresh.
Here are more ideas for celery:
- Soups. Celery leaves add color, flavor, and vitamins to soup and is classic in chicken, lentil, split pea, vegetable, and almost any other kind. Add leaves and stalks in big chunks, chop and saute along with onions at the beginning of the recipe, or slice and add near the end.
- Raw. Stuff stalks with peanut butter or soft cheese. Cut up stalks for salad. Waldorf salad contains apples, celery, walnuts and mayonnaise.
- Sauté chopped celery stalks and leaves along with onions for a start of just about any casserole. If you have extra, save the raw or cooked chopped vegetables in the refrigerator or freezer for As long as you are doing it, make extra that you can add to another recipe. Store in the refrigerator for a few days, or freeze if you won’t need it until later.
- Chop celery into batter for quiche, vegetable patties, stews, or hamburgers.
- Store raw for later. If you find you can’t use it all up right away, be sure it is completely dry and put it in a reusable container in the refrigerator. A small absorbent clean rag (instead of a paper towel) can soak up any moisture that acumulates that could add to spoilage.
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Photo Credit: JM Rosenfeld