Did I tell you I am taking further studies in nutrition and health sciences? I recently did a Food as Medicine short course with Monash Uni and it fired up my curiosity to the point that I just had to do something about it. So much food knowledge in the world, and so, so many conflicting claims. I have a friend who is a dietitian, that is a field I never wanted to venture into, it seemed to me to be such a moving target, especially these days with the internet, so much information and so much dis-information. Any claim you like you can find pros and cons for. Get rid of sugar, eat more sugar, eggs are bad, eggs are good, pasta is bad, pasta is good, I have even seen pages saying we should eat more salt and that is something just about all of us could do with less of, I speak with absolute conviction here, hypertension, remember?
Anyway, so here I am, going back to school, to university to study health sciences with a focus on nutrition. I am doing this because I want to know more about personalised nutrition, on how to cook for people with food intolerances, like me, and to improve my understanding of what makes those food intolerances so I can cook around them, and in doing so, help myself and you to create beautiful recipes so those of us who miss out on things, don’t have to feel like we miss out on things.
So where do we begin? Well, it seems to me that we need to go right back to the building blocks of the food we use. Nature is quite amazing and within her we can find every bit of nutrition that we need. And she doesn’t use food colourings or emulsifiers or trans fats. We have been going Back to Basics in the Cookie House Kitchen, shall we go back even further? To the building blocks of the food we are making? Let’s. We will start with something we use very often.
From a chef’s point of view celery is a really interesting ingredient, it is one of the key ingredients in the chef’s secret weapon, mirepoix. Mirepoix is a flavour base. A beginning, and it makes everything that comes after it taste better. Remember what Rob told us about flavour? To get it, we have to add it. Well a basic mirepoix is carrot, celery and onion, sometimes you can add capsicum too, but the basic one is the three, you will see this classic combo again and again in Cookie House Kitchen recipes as it provides both base flavours and aromatics. Don’t be afraid, use it well and use it often. I usually fry it gently in a little oil, or sometimes I toss it in raw, it depends on what flavour you are hoping to get out of it, have a play around, you will love the results.
We can buy celery as a whole bunch, or as stalks or as a heart, I usually get a whole bunch as the chickens love the leaves. You can eat the leaves, in fact they are higher in some vitamins and minerals than the stalks, but I rarely cook with them as they are quite overpoweringly strong and will dominate whatever you are cooking. If that is a celery soup, sure, go ahead, chuck em in. If it is a stock, you can add a few, a salad, okay, if you shred them finely enough and limit their number and use the small, delicate inner ones, anything else, no, save them for juice or for something you want to taste like CELERY. If you want something to taste just a little like celery, use the stalks.
Celery soup is one of my most favourite things to have in the spring, I sweat off some onion and garlic and lots of celery and a potato and a small parsnip for sweetness, simmer it in some chicken stock, purée it, then strain it or it will be stringy, stir in some coconut cream and Stuart’s your uncle, glorious warm weather soup.
Celery is also the star of that old chestnut, the Waldorf Salad. Gosh, I remember back when I was a very young chef Waldorf Salads were all the rage, celery, apples and walnuts in a creamy mayonnaise dressing, it seemed so fancy to me, a farm girl with only a passing aquaintance with either celery or walnuts.
From a nutrition stand point celery is a power house vegetable. The natural salts in it can help replace the salt we lose in sweat on those hot days, without the issues that table salt can cause. It is high in Vitamin A, beta carotene, lutein, chlorine, sulphur, silicon and bromine, and is supposed to be good for lowering blood pressure and cholesterol.
Eaten fresh it is a power house of vitamins and minerals, but it is also high in nutrients that are not heat sensitive, so even our Back to Basics Beef Stock, in which our celery simmers for many hours, is enriched not only from a flavour standpoint, but from a nutritional standpoint, from the inclusion of this humble and common vegetable.