Standard Fare’s Kelsie Kerr Makes Celery Root Soups

She looks beyond celery root’s gnarly exterior to expose a sweetly nuanced vegetable that can be used in myriad ways to enhance some of your favorite dishes or even be the lead culinary star all on its own.


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Photo by Lance Yamamoto

It ain’t pretty. But look beyond celery root’s gnarly exterior, and you’ll be rewarded with a sweetly nuanced vegetable that can be used to enhance some of your favorite dishes or even be the lead culinary star all on its own.

At Standard Fare, West Berkeley’s popular neighborhood breakfast-and-lunch spot, owner Kelsie Kerr sprinkles the root throughout the menu: peeled in salads, sliced and roasted in sandwiches, and puréed in gratins, mashes, and soups (see recipe), among other treatments. The former Chez Panisse chef said she first experimented with celery root when she studying French cuisine, which makes frequent use of the vegetable most notably in the classic bistro salad celery root rémoulade.

“For one thing, it goes really well with butter and cream,” she laughed in explaining why she enjoyed cooking with celery root. “I also like that it has a full flavor, but you can still overlap other flavors over the top of it.”

She described that flavor as very similar to stalk celery but with sweeter, richer, rounder notes. It can be used similar to a potato, with which it pairs well, but offers a lighter mouthfeel and a more robust vegetal taste that “makes you think of spring.” (When mashing, cook it in butter slowly in a pot with the lid on versus boiling since the root is more porous and can become water-logged.). For her signature veggie-heavy sandwiches, Kerr thinly slices and roasts celery root along with turmeric, cumin, or coriander. In salads, she’ll peel it raw, often dressing it with a flavored vinegar.

Local celery root season extends through April, making it a useful ingredient during the lean Bay Area produce period between late winter and early spring. Standard Fare sources from Full Belly and Coke farms, but it’s widely available around the East Bay. When picking celery root, it should appear fresh and not dry. Occasionally the cut stems will still be attached. 

As far as how to prep it, Kerr recommended washing to remove excess soil, trimming the exposed roots, and then quartering it to make it easier to peel off the rough brown exterior and expose the delicate white flesh underneath (she endorsed vertical-oriented “Y” peelers for safety’s sake). And, yes, that rough exterior can scare off some casual home cooks, but she urged everyone to peel beneath the surface.

“I’m sure a lot of people look at celery root in the market and think, ‘Wow, what am I going to do with that?’ But then you peel it and trim it and find this beautiful, pristine vegetable hiding underneath.”

Standard Fare’s Celery Root Soup With Herbed Crème Fraîche by Kelsie Kerr

(Makes about 2 quarts)

3½ tablespoons butter

3 cups medium diced onion (1 medium to large onion)

Salt to taste

4 cups peeled and sliced celery root (about 1 pound)

3½ cups water

Heat the butter in a heavy-bottomed pot. Add the onion and cook over medium-low flame until the onions are deliciously soft and translucent. Add salt to taste and stir in the sliced celery root. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook until the celery root is soft. Blend to a purée. Add water to desired consistency. Taste for salt and adjust as needed. Serve immediately or store in the refrigerator for up to one week. Garnish with a spoonful of herbed crème fraîche.

 

Herbed Crème Fraîche

(Makes 1⁄4 cup)

Any soft herb or herbs will work with this. Some favorites are cutting celery, chives, chervil, lovage, and sorrel.

¼ cup crème fraiche

2 tablespoons chopped herbs salt

Mix the cream, herbs, and salt. Taste and adjust salt as needed.

Variations: Substitute 1 cup of peeled potatoes for 1 cup of celery root. For a brothy soup, dice the onion and celery root smaller and use stock instead of water. Don’t purée. Substitute parsnips, carrots, or turnips for the celery root.

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