6 Reasons Celery Leaves Deserve Far More Attention

updated Dec 14, 2022
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(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)

Celery leaves — known primarily as a throwaway top to an already underappreciated vegetable — are so often discarded. It’s a real shame. Celery leaves are actually a bonus to their stalks and completely virtuous on their own. Here’s everything you need to know about prepping them and turning them into a vibrant pesto.

Celery leaves are delicious, nutritious, and packed with intense celery flavor. Prep them like you would any herb: minced, coarsely chopped, or left in their true, whole-leaf form. Toss the tender leaves with salad greens and vinaigrette. Throw them into stir-fries, stocks, soups, and sauces.

Today I’m sharing my recipe for a versatile and delicious pesto, and giving you six additional ways to use celery leaves. Next time you find yourself about to discard those leaves, I hope you’ll stop and bring one of these ideas to mind.

How to Use Celery Leaves

My favorite way to prepare celery leaves is to puree them into a flavorful and bright, creamy pesto with toasted nuts and Parmesan cheese.

At my restaurant, Little Eater, we serve the spread on toasted Italian bread with thick slices of heirloom tomatoes, a drizzle of good olive oil, and flaked sea salt. We layer it into a hearty sandwich with avocado, thinly sliced cucumber, goat cheese, and arugula. (You have to try it!) You can also fold the pesto (or leaves) into a risotto, potato frittata, or a Tuscan-style white bean soup or stew.

(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)

How to Pick Out the Best Celery Leaves

You will score the most leaves by looking for full bunches with dark green outer stalks (not just a trimmed bunch of light green hearts). Pick the celery leaves off the thin stems at the top of the stalk. To store the leaves, wrap them in a slightly damp kitchen towel and place the bundle in an open plastic bag in your vegetable drawer. (Alternatively, line a zip-top bag with a paper towel and fill the bag with leaves.)

While leaves are tender and useful, those outer, dark green stalks can sometimes be a little tough for raw preparations — reserve them for stock, soups, and soffritto.

How to Make Celery Leaf Pesto

In a food processor, fitted with a standard blade, chop 2 small garlic cloves until they won’t break down any further. Add 1/2 cup walnuts or almonds, and 2 to 3 cups celery leaves; blend until finely chopped. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Blend again, streaming in 3/4 cup to 1 cup olive oil through the top feed tube until smooth. Add 1/2 cup Parmesan or Pecorino cheese. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

6 Smart Ways to Redeem Celery Leaves

  1. Use celery leaves as a fresh herb. Mince them finely or coarsely chop them to garnish any dish with bright, celery flavor.
  2. Make celery leaf pesto. Spread the bright pesto over toast or into a sandwich.
  3. Make a celery leaf and chickpea salad. Combine celery leaves, chopped celery, and chickpeas with shaved red onion and sherry vinaigrette.
  4. Add celery leaves to vegetable stocks, soups, stews, and pasta sauce.
  5. Add celery leaves to a stir-fry at the very end of cooking. Reserve a pinch of leaves to garnish the top.
  6. Swap parsley for celery leaves in a classic tabbouleh with bulgur, tomato, and cucumber.

Tell me: What do
you do with celery leaves?

(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)