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Celery

Why Eat It
Varieties
Availability
Shopping
Storage
Preparation
Nutrition Chart


Why Eat It

As much a household staple as onions or potatoes, celery is valued for its crisp texture and distinctive flavor. It is widely used as an appetizer, a salad ingredient, and a flavorful addition to many cooked dishes. A bunch or head of celery is made up of individual stalks or ribs. These ribs are naturally crisp due to the rigidity of the plant's cell walls and the high water content within the cells. In fact, celery is mostly water and therefore exceptionally low in calories, making it a first-rate snack food for people trying to control their weight. Although it is not especially high in nutrients (largely because of its high water content), it does have a respectable amount of potassium.

Varieties

Most celery grown commercially in the United States belongs to several green varieties that range in color from light to dark green; all are referred to as Pascal.

In addition to heads of celery, you'll often find grocery stores selling prepackaged celery hearts. This term refers to the tender, innermost ribs of the celery, but many of the packaged ones are actually just small stalks of celery that have been washed and trimmed. (You can also make your own celery hearts; see instructions under braising, below.)

Availability

Celery is available year-round. California and Florida produce about 90% of the domestic crop, with California supplying the majority. Some celery is grown in Michigan, Texas, and New York; a small amount of celery is imported, primarily from Canada.

Shopping

Light green celery stalks with a glossy surface tend to taste best. (Dark green stalks have slightly more nutrients, but are apt to be stringy.) If not wrapped, celery should be sprinkled with water to prevent wilting. Look first at the bunch--it should be compact and well shaped--and then examine the leaves, which should be green and fresh-looking. The leaves are a good guide to the celery's overall condition. The stalks and leaf stems should feel firm and crisp, as if they would snap when broken in half, and should be free of cracks or bruises.

Inspect both the outer and inner surfaces of stalks for discolored spots or bruises, or for patches that appear to be trimmed off--grocers sometimes slice off bruised or rotting areas, and such stalks won't keep as long as undamaged celery.

Storage

Refrigerate celery in a plastic bag in the crisper, where it can keep for up to two weeks. Keep the vegetable away from the coldest areas of the refrigerator--the back and the side walls--since celery freezes easily, thus damaging the cell walls. Once thawed, the celery will be limp and watery. Sprinkle the stalks occasionally with water to maintain freshness, since celery dehydrates easily. If the stalks have begun to wilt by the time you want to use them, refresh them by submerging them in ice water for several minutes.

Preparation

Rinse celery thoroughly to remove sand and dirt. To serve it raw, cut the stalks to the desired length just before serving them. (If you want to cut the celery in advance, let it stand in ice water for up to an hour before serving.) If stalks are stringy, they can be peeled with a vegetable peeler. Trim off the leaves and knobby tops--and if you wish, save them to add flavor and texture to salads, broths, soups, and stews.

When added to other dishes, raw or cooked celery is generally cut into smaller pieces--you can slice the ribs diagonally, chop or dice them, or slice them lengthwise into 1/4"-wide matchsticks.

Braising: Although braising takes longer than other methods, it can yield a more tender, flavorful result. If you braise celery by the bunch, separate the stalks and cut them into uniform lengths 6" to 8" long. Many cooks prefer to braise celery hearts. To make the hearts, trim the ribs to a length of about 5" and remove the outer ribs to reveal the tender innermost ribs, or hearts; then cut each heart in half lengthwise.

Lay the celery in a heavy pan. (To enhance the flavor, peel and chop several onions and carrots, spread them over the bottom of the pan first, and place the celery on top.) Add enough water, vegetable broth, or defatted beef or chicken broth to just cover the vegetables; bring to a boil and simmer, covered, until tender. Cut celery pieces can also be braised in this way and will take less time. Cooking time: for whole stalks or hearts, 15 to 20 minutes; for pieces, five to seven minutes.

Microwaving: Trim a pound of celery and cut the ribs into 2" to 3" pieces. Place in a microwavable baking dish, add 2 tablespoons of water, and cover with a lid or vented plastic wrap. Stir pieces halfway through cooking time. Cooking time: five to seven minutes.

Stir-frying: Celery is a favorite ingredient in Chinese cooking; it can be sauteed or stir-fried, alone or with other vegetables, in a small amount of oil. In a skillet or wok, heat a small amount of oil until hot. Add 2 cups of thinly sliced celery. Cook and stir over medium-high heat until crisp-tender. Cooking time: two to three minutes.

Nutrition Chart

Celery/1 cup chopped

19
Total fat (g)
0.2
Saturated fat (g)
0
Monounsaturated fat (g)
0
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0.1
Dietary fiber (g)
2
0.9
Carbohydrate (g)
4
Cholesterol (mg)
0
Sodium (mg)
104
Potassium (mg)
344


Date Published: 04/20/2005
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