I gave the usual noodles the boot in this sesame ginger chicken salad. Instead I tossed shredded celery root (also known as celeriac) with a simple sesame seed ginger vinaigrette made with toasted sesame oil, maple, and tamari. A handful of chopped fresh basil is added for even more flavor.
Calling celery root the chimera of vegetables would be a bit of a culinary exaggeration, but I am not going to deny that it is a bit of a changeling. Although it tastes undeniably of celery, it has the texture of a root vegetable, like a carrot or turnip. The exterior is craggy and hairy, and it's often topped with a wild whirl of green stumps where it's stems were hacked off at ground level. All to be contrasted with its starkly pale interior. The dichotomies continue with the fact that it also answers to two different names: celery root and celeriac. Maybe calling it a produce identity crisis would be the fairest way of explaining it.
While lacking in good looks, celery root makes up for it with its good attitude. It is the friendly kid on the playground that seems to get along with everyone. It is sort of a starch, but not really. You can substitute it for celery, braise it, or shred it and eat it raw like a carrot.
Celery root is not the same as the ever-present celery stalk we all know so well. It is another botanical variety grown for it's root, and the stems are comparatively bitter and skinny. It's grown for what's below-ground — the celery root — and having grown underground, it's not the prettiest of vegetables, that's for sure.
But once you carve off the exterior, the creamy white and vaguely mottled interior remains. As you peel it away, you can even smell the celery. It's creamy when cooked, and sharper and earthier when shredded and eaten raw.
In this Asian chicken salad-inspired combo, we peeled and shredded the celery root with a box grater, and used it as the base in place of cabbage and crunchy noodles. If you can find Thai basil use that, but any fresh basil will work; cilantro is also a stellar option.
Sesame Chicken Celery Root Salad
2 large carrots, peeled
1 large celery root, peeled (about 1 pound to 1 1/4 pounds)
3 cups shredded cooked chicken breast (see Recipe Note)
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil (preferably Thai basil), or cilantro
1 small clove garlic, peeled and grated with a Microplane, or finely minced
2 tablespoons white vinegar
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon dark pure maple syrup (or agave)
1 tablespoon reduced-sodium tamari (or reduced-sodium soy sauce if not gluten-free)
2 teaspoons sesame seeds
1 1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger root
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Shred carrots and celery root on a box grater or with the grating attachment of a food processor. Combine the carrots, celery root, chicken, and basil in a large salad bowl. Combine garlic, vinegar, sesame oil, maple syrup, tamari, sesame seeds, ginger, salt, and pepper in a jar and shake to combine. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss to combine. Divide among 4 large plates to serve.
To cook chicken: Bring 6 cups of water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and stir to dissolve. Add 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts and return to a simmer over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low to maintain a gentle simmer and cook, turning occasionally to make sure it cooks evenly, until the chicken is cooked through, 15 to 17 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board to cool, at least 20 minutes before shredding.
(Image credits: Katie Webster)