Celery Root: The Ugly Duckling of the Vegetable World
Nothing says Mediterranean, for me anyway, like produce. Strolling down the aisles, I passed by the usual suspects of asparagus, peppers, broccolini, eggplant and zucchini. And then I came upon a display with celery root...the ugly duckling of the vegetable world. It's not much to look at and given it's less than attractive outer appearance, it's easy to walk on by without a sideways glance. But having googled 'celery root' some time ago after seeing it on some show or another on the Foodnetwork, I knew celery root originiates in the Mediterranean basin and figured it was no small coincidence that I was in the mood for Medierranean and there, right in front of me, was a root vegetable that originates in the Mediterranean basin, where it gows wild, and dates back to 800 BC, with honorable mention in Homer's 'Odyssey', under it's Greek name 'selinon'.
In Europe, celery root, also known as celeriac, is commonly used in soups, stews and salads. In France, Celery Remoulade is quite popular. It can be roasted, stewed, blanched or mashed. Underneath that tough exterior is a perfect, ivory-fleshed, winter alternative to potato and other starches that is a cousin to anise, carrots, parsley and parsnips and tastes like a subtle blend of celery and parsley. No matter which way you decide to cook celery root, it first needs to be peeled and prepped but leave the peeler in the drawer - this is a job for a good, sharp knife.
Celery root is rich in vitamins A, C, E and K, essential oils, carotene, microelements and other nutrients. It has excellent calming, analgesic, antiseptic, anti-allergy and other therapeutic effects. It's recommended for people with various digestive system problems including ulcers, gastritis, indigestion and lack of appetite. Studies show that celery root improves liver and bladder function, calms down arthritis pain and swelling, improves vision and stimulates metabolism. It's also a natural aphrodisiac, improving stamina and assisting in treating frigidity. Regular consumption of celery root is linked to improved memory and mental abilities, lowered risk of inflammation and ailments connected with function of the urinary system. It's also been suggested that it quickens the process of fat burning.
It was a done deal that celery root was going to be a part of our meal, and then I spied Brussels sprouts. Neither my husband nor my daughter are particularly fond of Brussels sprouts, but I thought, 'Perhaps if I give them a little Mediterranean Oomph, they'll reconsider their position on Brussels sprouts'. Brussels sprouts are one of those vegetables that you either like or you don't...there doesn't seem to be any middle ground, kind of like cilantro. Standing there with a carton of organic Brussels sprouts from the fertile soils of Nova Scotia, my father's homeland, I couldn't resist. My husband and daughter could chose to push them to one side, or give them a try...either which way...they were going to be on the plate.
I also picked up a pint of grape tomatoes to add a little umami, that strong savory fifth taste that makes everything from spaghetti bolognese to Marmite hard to resist. When I got to the meat department, I wavered between pork and beef and ultimately decided on sirloin steak that I planned on rubbing with some Mediterranean seasonings and a little something, at that point unkown, that would add a little extra depth and roasted flavour.
My plan was to serve dinner at 6:30 pm, so at 5:45 I started prepping my ingredients. First I peeled and chunked my celery root. I placed it in a saucepan of water. with the juice of 1/2 of a lemon to boil. (The lemon juice prevents the celery root from browning). I then tossed my Brussels sprouts on a baking sheet with 3 strips of bacon, finely chopped, seasoned with freshly ground sea salt and black pepper and drizzled with olive oil. I put my grape tomatoes in a nonstick pie plate and tossed them with olive oil, sea salt, pepper and a little Greek oregano. I took the sirloin steaks out of the refrigerator, placed them on a plate and made a rub of 1/2 tsp dried rosemary, hand crushed, 1 tsp dried thyme and 1/2 tsp of finely ground coffee to add that extra little bit of depth I was hoping for. I preheated my oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and placed both the Brussels sprouts and tomatoes in to roast at 6pm, figuring they'd take 20-30 minutes.
When my celery root was fork tender, I drained it and poured in into the blender. I added in the juice of the other 1/2 a lemon, 1/3 c. of 0.5% milk and 1/4 c. grated parmesan cheese and seasoned with freshly ground sea salt and black pepper. I pureed the celery root until it was creamy and smooth and then poured it back into the saucepan to keep warm while I cooked my sirloin steaks when there was 10 minutes left on the timer for the Brussels sprouts and roasted grape tomatoes.
At 6:25 pm, my steaks were grilled in my stove top grill pan to medium doneness and both my Brussels sprouts and roasted grape tomatoes were done. I placed my steaks on a plate and tented them with foil for 5 minutes while i did my final prepartion on the Roasted Balsamic Brussels Sprouts. I placed the roasted Brussels sprouts, including a few crispy loose roasted leaves, in a serving dish and tossed them with some crumbled feta cheese and drizzled on some balsamic vinegar. Not only were these Brussels sprouts with Mediterranean flair a big hit with both my husband and daughter, (my daughter actually asked for seconds)), they were delicious. It really makes me happy when I can infuse something so healthy into our diets as Brussels sprouts.
There are over 100 studies on the health benefits of Brussels sprouts with over half of those studies being in relation to their anti-cancer properties. Among all types of cancers, prevention of the following types is most closely associated with intake of Brussels sprouts: colon cancer, lung cancer, bladder cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer and ovarian cancer. Brussels sprouts provide special nutrient supports for the body's detox system, it's antioxidant system and it's inflammatory/anti-inflammatory system. They are an excellent source of glucosinate, an enzyme neccesary on a cellular level for detoxification of cancer causing substances. Brussels sprouts are rich in sulfur containing nutrients which the body's detox system requires in ample supply to work efficiently. Further to that, fiber components in Brussels sprouts bind with bile acids to improve the excretion of cholesterol thereby lowering cholesterol levels in the blood.
I then sliced the Mediterranean Rubbed Sirloin steaks to layer on top of the Mediterranean Pureed Celery Root. First I spooned a heaping amount of pureed celery root on the plate and made a well along the center in which I placed the sliced sirloin. I drizzled a small amount of extra virgin olive oil around the edge of the pureed celery root and drizzled both the celery root and sirloin with aged balsamc vinegar. Next I added the Roasted Balsamic Brussesls Sprouts to the plate, a spoonful of roasted grape tomatoes and some carmelized wild mushrooms with onions. Neither my husband nor my daughter had ever tasted celery root so both were more than a bit dubious, particularly seeing it plated next to Brussels sprouts. My husband was pleasantly surprised, telling me that he would opt for pureed celery root over mashed potatoes any day, and my daughter said it was her favorite thing on the plate and even asked if she could have some for lunch the next day! Cooked with love and nothing but good intentions, celery root is the ugly duckling that becomes a true culinary swan!
Roasted vegetables take on a whole different flavour than when they are cooked any other way and roasting the Brussels sprouts was definitely a wise choice on my part! The carmelization of the natural sugars in both the Brussels sprouts and tomatoes coupled with the smokiness of the char, accentuated by the almost anise-like flavour of the celery root, with it's lemony zest, the hint of balsamic and the rich, earthiness of the Mediterranean Rubbed Sirloin just brought everything together in one magical bite after another!
The aroma of this meal was also quite incredible, so much so that both Stephen and my friend Kenny who had popped in, remarked that something was smelling wonderful the moment they walked in through the door.
I feel I knocked it out of the park with this meal. The aroma instantly sparked interest, the flavours delivered, at under $18 for the entire meal, my pocket book was happy and knowing all the nutritional goodness I had laid before the people I love brought happiness to me.
Mediterranean Rubbed Sirlon on Medieterranean Pureed Celery Root with Roasted Balsamic Brussels Sprouts, roasted grape tomatoes and carmelized wild mushrooms and onion.......easy, healthied-up, inexpensive AND delicious!