Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Eats roots and leaves: nose-to-tail celery and celeriac soup*

Wastefulness. At one end of the input-output spectrum we throw away millions of tonnes of perfectly edible food every year.

At the other end of the spectrum, we limit, and therefore waste, the options available as food. Our environmental impact is such that species are become extinct at an alarmingly exponential rate (they ate dodos people. And don’t even get me started on the implications of bee extinction**). In terms of food production and consumption we are also voluntarily limiting the variety of species that we chose to eat***. And even more so, we are choosing only to consume a very small part of those species that we do choose to eat.

Homo sapiens, the smart men, need to eat smarter. Nose-to-tail eating is a brilliant slogan for us carnivores. ‘Eats roots and leaves’ captures this for the herbivores among us. It’s true that not every part of every plant is edible. Some are in fact harmful. But beetroot leaves, broccoli stalks, grape vine leaves, and pumpkin seeds – all edible. Orange rind and pineapple skins make beautiful marmalade. Watermelon rind can be turned into pickles.

And pretty much every part of celery can be devoured.

Most of us are familiar with the stalks – the crunchy light green part, great with hummus or peanut butter (that may be my particular fetish ...). Wash, cut, throw away the leaves, right?

Alternatively – eat it all. Young celery leaves are lovely in salad. Older leaves can be blanched like English spinach or oven dried as crunchy snacks or even powdered for a concentrated celery flavoured dust. Even the tiny seeds are edible. As is the root.

Celeriac is a knobbly, bulbous root of a variety of celery. It has a subtle celery flavour and can be eaten raw (for example, julienned in French remoulade, a kind of mustard mayonnaise salad), roasted or fried (a little like potato, but less starchy) or steamed and pureed (try: half potato, half celeriac, significant amounts of butter, delicious).

Which all leads to soup: with a light creamy texture and a fresh celery taste, it is all the comfort of winter with all the promise of spring. Using every part of the celery plant.

* For those with a one track mind, the incorrect insertion of a comma can make all the difference. See Lyn Truss’ excellent work on gramma, Eat, Roots and Leaves

** In a nutshell, bees fertilise flowers. Fertilised flowers grown into seed producing fruit. See producing fruit are a) edible, and b) the basis upon which other flower-producing plants grow. Fewer bees means reduced fertilisation, which impacts on crops. Bees are a big deal for the farming sector. And bees are very sensitive to environmental change.

*** This is more complicated, because on one level this is being limited for us by the agricultural and retail sectors, but en masse, we-the-human-race are limiting our choices.

Thick celery and celeriac soup

1 bunch celery
1 brown onion
1 garlic clove
100 gms finely chopped bacon (optional)
1 celeriac (about 500g), skin removed and roughly chopped
1 lt vegetable or chicken stock
2 small potatoes, peeled and cut into ½ cm dice
Salt and pepper to taste
Sour cream to serve

Celery powder (in advance)*

Preheat oven to 50Âșc.

Remove celery leaves. Spread out on an oven tray, bake in oven for around 45 minutes, or until dehydrated. When completely dry, blend in a food processor until finely powdered. Remove any spiky bits of stalk. Store in an airtight container (as with other dried herbs and spices, usually good for about 6 months).

Celery and celeriac soup

Finely dice the onion and 3 celery stalks (eat remaining stalks as a snack with peanut butter or hummus or tzadziki) and mince the garlic.

Combine with bacon in a large heavy based saucepan, and cook over a low heat until the onion is starting to soften. The low heat will melt the bacon fat – if not using bacon, add a teaspoon of olive oil.

Meanwhile, in a separate pot, blanch the potato dice in boiling water until cooked through (about 5-10 minutes).

When the onion is soft, add the celeriac and half the stock. Bring to the boil. Once boiling, add half the remaining stock and continue to cook until the celeriac is soft enough to smash with the back of a spoon. This takes about 25 minutes.

Blend the soup in a food processor or with a bar mix until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Return to saucepan and add remaining stock. If the soup is too thick, add a little water. Stir in the cooked potato and heat through.

Serve with a dollop of sour cream and a generous sprinkling of celery powder.

* I started making celery salt and got side-tracked - and voila, celery powder.

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