I seem to be having a moment with vegetables that I generally find suspect. First
onions scallions, now celery, soon to be discussed: kale. Unusually enough, I found my “renewed” interest in celery (not sure if I ever had any) began with a cocktail. Now, I’ve found that my interest in many things is increased when booze is involved, but rarely is the point of interest so wholesome as green vegetables. So, I’d like to say a brief thank you to gin (yay, gin!) for inspiring me to venture out into the wide world of celery based noshing. More specifically, I’d like to thank the Southern Exposure*, a fantastic cocktail at Alembic, which incidentally is one of my favorite bars in San Francisco.
*Alembic’s description of the Southern Exposure: “Another refreshing elixir plucked straight from the garden, our spin on the classic southside uses Junipero gin, fresh mint, lime juice, a touch of sugar and a little shot of fresh celery juice. Loaded with antioxidants to help deal with the Haight’s population of free ‘radicals’.”
Now, my qualms with celery have never been really about its flavor*, for me, the offense lies in the millions of stringy fibers that don’t quite give it a crunch but rather a bizarre chew. I may have at least partially come around to the stalk, but I still avoid it in crudite plates, and never quite understood the allure of Ants on a Log (though that might also have something to do with the fact that I don’t like peanut butter or raisins). The first sip of that delightful cocktail turned it all around; I realized that the flavor of celery is actually quite lovely, fresh, crisp and slightly vegetal, essentially, it left me wanting more.
*Side note: I have a strong urge to spell flavor the British way, aka flavour (and colour vs color) but will restrain myself.
So here’s to revisiting things you thought you didn’t like; sometimes the slightest adjustment to your perspective can result in a lovely surprise!
This soup is the essence of celery, the moderate cook time and blending removes all but a few vestiges of celery’s stringiness. If you’re feeling a bit fussy, and sometimes I am, you can strain the finished soup through a fine mesh strainer to remove any stringy bits. While the celery leaves may seem like a superfluous garnish, let me urge you to use them, they really help perk up the end product by providing a bit of the fresh celery snap and flavor (without any strings). I like this soup best as a light lunch, paired with a bit of buttered toast, but I imagine its mild flavor would play nicely with many other options.
Adapted, slightly, from Everyday Food: March 2006
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 ½ pounds celery, sliced crosswise into ½ inch pieces; should yield ≈ 6 cups (leaves reserved for garnish)
1 leek, sliced crosswise into ½ inch pieces
1 baking potato (8 to 10 ounces), peeled and cut into ½ inch cubes
2 bay leaves
1 to 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
extra virgin olive oil for drizzling
Heat the butter in a large (4+ quart) saucepan, over medium heat. Add the celery, leek, and potato, and season lightly with salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables have begun to soften, about 8-12 minutes (this time will vary greatly depending on the surface area of the bottom of your pot).
Add 6 cups water and the bay leaves to the saucepan, and bring to a simmer. Reduce to heat to low (or whatever temperature will keep your soup simmering, not boiling) and simmer until vegetables are very tender, about 20 minutes.
Fish out the bay leaves and discard; blend til smooth either using an immersion blender (my preference) or by carefully transferring to a blender in batches. Season to taste with salt and the lemon juice.
Ladle into bowls, drizzle with olive oil, a few cracks of black pepper and the celery leaves.
You don’t need an immersion blender to make this soup, but it certainly reduces the hassle, and at least for me, the mess. I am quite smitten with mine.
Seasoning to taste is less intimidating than it sounds, it just takes a bit of patience. When seasoning soup I generally like to start with 1 teaspoon of salt, and taste after progressively adding ¼ teaspoon more from there, until it tastes right. This time around I added about 2 teaspoons in addition to what was sprinkled on the vegetables while sweating them, but I always start with a small amount, as it’s difficult to rescue an over-salted soup. Your soup may need more or less salt than mine, depending on how much liquid cooks off, the size of your vegetables, personal taste, etc. Also, it’s important to add the lemon juice with the initial seasoning as acid is key to well seasoned food, and will effect the level of salt needed for the soup to taste right.
Like most pureed soups, this tastes even better as leftovers, just reheat gently over low heat, and then garnish with olive oil, pepper, and celery leaves.