Celery root—the “it’s not us, it’s you” of the vegetable world—goes by other names. It operates under the pseudonyms of “celeriac,” “turnip-rooted celery,” and “celery knob,” too. And just look at its knobby visage: The beast of the produce section, it as delicious as it is unattractive. But if ever you’ve had a celeriac soup, perhaps spiked with cream, you know the veggie goes from “healthful and ugly” to “decadent dreamboat” in a heartbeat. It pairs beautifully with ingredients like cream and potatoes. Pureed alongside or instead of tubers, it’s stunning. You can even fry it, like latkes, for a potato-free version of the classic.
Indeed, the root vegetable’s flesh is ivory-colored and much like a ‘tater in texture. You’ll more often see it cooked than raw, though it makes an occasional cameos in salads, and julienned celeriac with a mustard-spiked mayonnaise is a traditional first course in parts of France.
In cold climates, look for the root in summer and early fall. In more temperate areas, expect to see it at its grimacing best in fall, winter and early spring. Select celery roots that feel heavy for their size. If you spy any stalks or greens on top, be sure they look fresh, not dried, and never slimy or wilted. This sucker can be tricky to peel thanks to all its knobs, so try to find the one with the smoothest exterior.
At the farmer’s market and spy celeriac with its bright, long stalks still attached? That’s veggie gold: Freshly harvested, it tends to be more tender and easier to prepare. (When home, cut off the stalks and store them separately from the root.) Keep the root cool, wrapped in a perforated plastic bag, in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator for three to five days. You’ll want a stiff brush, a sharp knife and lemon juice on hand when preparing it. (Even more details here!)
Here are a few of our favorite recipes for showcasing this farmer’s market secret weapon.
Keep your lobster bisque: This shockingly vegan soup can compete with the fanciest French or Italian preparations. That’s thanks to truffle oil, sure, but also thanks to sweet parsnip, lightly caramelized onion, and an innocuous potato, binding the whole thing together. It’s dairy-free, sure, but it’s also deluxe.
The root buddies up with its tuber bestie again in these toddler-friendly hash brown cups. (Really! Staffers can testify!) We love that they cook up in the oven, leaving stovetop space free when hosting brunch. Let guests dollop them with crème fraîche, sprinkle them with chives, or all of the above.
Eat your heart out, coq au vin. This celery-root spiked riff on the French classic has similarly strong Gallic flavors such as Dijon, tomato paste and thyme, but swaps out the classic red wine for an all-American, chocolatey porter. The result is a rustic, hearty braise with a lilting freshness as carrots, celeriac and potatoes nestle together.
Chef Joshua McFadden is one of the great heroes of vegetable cookery. In this recipe, elegant enough to serve to the most exacting guests, he employs classic French technique in simmering the celeriac with thyme, milk, garlic, and bay leaf (and potatoes!) Then everything gets a dusting of bread crumbs and voluptuous Taleggio, one of Italy’s great cheeses.
Celery root just can’t stay away from potatoes, and this easy twist on latkes shows how good the duo can be. A good food processor is all the fancy equipment you need for this ready-in-40-minutes superstar. If you didn’t grow up eating them, latkes may be a dish you only order when you’re out at a restaurant. We can almost guarantee you that you’ll like them even more when they’re piping-hot from your own kitchen.