Every November, celery performs countless tasks: It perfumes the holiday turkey, lending moisture from the inside out; it’s the backbone of the stock in gravy; it adds bite and vegetal flavor to stuffing.
But rarely does this tireless Thanksgiving staple get any thanks.
“It’s hard to make it the center of the spectacle, but on the back end, it’s everywhere,” said Ignacio Mattos, chef and owner of Estela, Flora Bar and Café Altro Paradiso in New York City. “It’s a supporting actor.”
Treated like a workhorse, celery does its job, but it’s so much more than a sidekick to Buffalo wings. Given the opportunity, these stalks shine — versatile enough to be enjoyed raw, simmered until silky or cooked to any state in between. Celery’s bright, citrusy flavors mollify with heat, and its stalks provide a prodigious range of textures.
Celery reigned supreme at the Thanksgiving table in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Raw stalks were attentively arranged in crystal vases created specifically for the purpose of showing off the era’s “It” ingredient. Ornate serving sets were considered incomplete without celery vases, until they were replaced by narrow, horizontal celery dishes.
“Celery was a status item for a long time in the Edwardian era,” said Amy Bentley, a professor of Food Studies at New York University.
For Americans of that time, celery was considered new and exciting. Dutch immigrants, who are widely credited with helping to develop the celery business in the United States, started growing the vegetable as early as 1874 near Kalamazoo, Michigan, which was subsequently nicknamed Celery City. Train boys and messengers sold celery to passengers on the railroad; the seeds were disseminated across the United States, and a celery craze ensued.
Good Housekeeping’s Thanksgiving menus from 1900 celebrate celery in every form: There was celery soup, the stalks blended with mashed potatoes and accompanied by peanut butter on brown bread. Boiled, then tossed with breadcrumbs to stuff the turkey, celery fortified the holiday centerpiece; its cooking liquid was used to baste the poultry. Prized for its crunch, celery was tossed with apples and mayonnaise.
Decades later, during Harry Truman’s presidency, braised celery was revered enough to get its own line on the White House menu for Thanksgiving dinner in 1947.
Celery’s popularity grew with its availability, until its success undercut its cachet: Celery became commonplace. (Perhaps it was doomed to a supporting part by the French, who acknowledged it as the flavorful bedrock of their cuisine by casting it with onions and carrots as a mirepoix staple.)
Knocked from its pedestal, celery settled into its current roles as crudité, kid’s snack and Bloody Mary garnish.
But recently, the ingredient found new fame. “Last year, we had a huge spike in consumption because a Kardashian started juicing it and put it on her Instagram,” said Jake Willbrandt, a fifth-generation celery farmer in Decatur, Michigan. “People just went wild; it was a huge fad for about eight months, and the prices were incredible. Just like any fad, it has faded, and consumption is back to normal now.”
But every November, celery quietly sneaks back into the limelight: Its popularity spikes on Google Trends during the week of Thanksgiving, and supermarket sales skyrocket throughout the holidays. In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, celery sales at Walmart jump by more than 650%, a company spokeswoman said.
Celery is a team player, equally adept at imparting subtle flavor, unseen, as it is at the center of the plate. Whether you’re looking to supplement your Thanksgiving spread with a few new recipes or to experiment with the neglected celery stalks perishing in your fridge, these three recipes showcase celery in a few of its prime forms.
Crunchy and fresh, the raw vegetable holds its own in a punchy salad with blue cheese and mustard, offsetting the rich, buttery flavors of the Thanksgiving table with assertive verve. The stalks blend remarkably well in a fresher, more vegetal take on potato-leek soup, bright and light enough to simply whet the appetite. Give the right amount of time and attention, celery braises until silky, in a saucy side dish that magically mimics the richness of roasted turkey jus.
The Thanksgiving feast has long been associated with aspiration, but the humble everyday ingredients that support us year-round can prove worthy of appreciation. Thanksgiving without celery wouldn’t taste like Thanksgiving at all.
RECIPE: Celery-Leek Soup With Potato and Parsley
Yield: 6 to 8 servings (about 9 1/2 cups)
Total time: 45 minutes
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
- 2 large leeks (about 10 ounces each), halved lengthwise, thinly sliced crosswise and cleaned (about 3 cups)
- 3 garlic cloves, sliced
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 pound celery (about 1 large bunch), leaves reserved, stalks trimmed, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1 large russet potato (about 12 ounces), peeled and roughly chopped
- 3 fresh bay leaves
- 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
- 1/4 cup dry white wine
- 7 cups chicken or vegetable stock
- 1 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves, plus more for garnish
- Crème fraîche or heavy cream, for serving
1. In a large pot, heat the 1/4 cup oil over medium. Add the leeks and garlic, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until meltingly tender, about 7 minutes.
2. Add the celery, potato, bay leaves and thyme, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes. Add the wine to deglaze, then cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid is almost dry, about 3 minutes.
3. Add the stock and bring to boil over high. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until all the vegetables are fully tender and soft, about 20 minutes. Discard the bay leaves, then stir in 1 cup parsley leaves.
4. Working in two or three batches, transfer the soup to a blender and purée until smooth. (It’s almost always beneficial to let the soup blend for another minute or two past what seems necessary to emulsify as much as possible.) Season generously with salt and pepper.
5. Transfer to bowls. Drizzle with olive oil; garnish with reserved celery leaves and parsley, and sprinkle with pepper. Serve with a dollop of crème fraîche or a drizzle of heavy cream.
Braised Celery With Thyme and White Wine
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
Total time: 1 1/4 hours
- Kosher salt
- 2 heads fresh celery (about 2 pounds)
- 1 1/2 cups chicken stock or vegetable stock
- 3/4 cup dry white wine
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 medium shallots, peeled and thinly sliced into rounds
- 12 fresh bay leaves
- 8 fresh thyme sprigs
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
- 1 tablespoon dried herbes de Provence
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter (3/4 stick), diced
- Small sprigs of fresh parsley or finely chopped parsley leaves, for garnish
1. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil over high, and heat the oven to 400 degrees.
2. Prepare the celery: Separate the stalks, and reserve some celery leaves for garnish. Gently peel the outer layer of the thicker stalks to remove any tough strings. Cutting at a sharp angle, trim and discard the tips of the stalks, then cut stalks on an angle into 3-inch pieces. Add the celery segments to the boiling water, and cook just until slightly softened, 1 to 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon or tongs, transfer the blanched celery to a large 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish, and arrange in an even layer.
3. Top with the stock, wine and olive oil. Add the shallots, bay leaves, thyme sprigs and garlic, tucking them between the celery layers, then sprinkle with the peppercorns, herbes de Provence and 1 teaspoon salt. Dot with the butter, then cover tightly with aluminum foil.
4. Transfer to the oven and bake until celery is tender and yielding, about 45 minutes, if you want it to retain slight bite, or 1 hour or more, if you prefer it extra-tender.
5. Using tongs or a slotted spoon, transfer the braised celery to a serving platter or shallow bowl and cover. Transfer the remaining liquid to a medium saucepan and boil over medium-high until reduced by half, about 15 minutes. Pour the reduced sauce over the celery, straining, if desired, and sprinkle with fresh celery leaves and parsley. Serve warm.
Celery Salad With Apples and Blue Cheese
Yield: 8 servings
Total time: 20 minutes
- 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup finely chopped shallot
- 4 teaspoons coarse mustard
- 1 teaspoon finely grated fresh lemon zest, plus 4 teaspoons lemon juice (from 1 lemon)
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 head celery, trimmed, stalks peeled and thinly sliced on the diagonal, leaves reserved
- 2 tart red apples, such as Pink Lady
- 1 small celery root (about 12 ounces)
- 1 packed cup fresh parsley leaves, plus more for garnish
- 1/2 cup coarsely chopped roasted, salted almonds
- 1 cup crumbled bold, creamy but firm blue cheese (4 to 5 ounces)
1. Prepare the vinaigrette: In a large bowl, whisk together the olive oil, shallot, mustard, lemon zest and juice, and sugar; season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the sliced celery and toss to coat.
2. Core the apples, then slice them lengthwise into very thin wedges using a knife or mandoline. Add to the sliced celery and toss to coat. Peel or slice off the outer skin and layers of the celery root until no brown skin remains. Cut the celery root in half lengthwise, then slice into very thin half-moons using a knife or a mandoline. Add to the celery and apple mixture and toss to coat. (The salad will hold up fairly well refrigerated for 1 to 2 hours — or even overnight — from this point.)
3. Just before serving, add the parsley, almonds and half the cheese, and toss to combine; season to taste with salt and pepper.
4. Transfer to a shallow serving bowl or platter; top with the remaining cheese, the reserved celery leaves and fresh parsley leaves. Serve immediately.