I like the taste of celery. I like how it adds crunch to salads and body to soups and stews. But I find that if I can get away with it, I often skip it, even when a recipe calls for it. Read on to find out why.
With the exception of cream of celery soup (which I never make) celery is seldom the main flavor in dishes. It usually functions like a member of the back up band and, to carry the analogy further (forgive me), it's often like a rhythm guitar: Nice, but not always essential.
Don't get me wrong. I have a great respect for celery and the importance of all background ingredients, no matter how subtle. My real problem is with how celery is sold. Most recipes call for a rib here or a cup of chopped celery there but celery is always sold in big, fat, multi-stalked heads which I never use up before it wilts and begins to turn to mush. I lost count of how much celery I tossed into the compost before I decided to buy it only when it seemed absolutely essential.
I'm also sad when I see most of the celery leaves chopped off in supermarket celery, since celery leaves have a lot of the flavor, but not so much of the extra water, of the stalks, making them good additions to chicken or tuna salad. And why aren't the stalks sold individually? Is it a freshness thing?
I find that a little celery seed (found in the spice section of the grocery store) is a good substitute for the flavor. Texture is another thing, though. It's hard to duplicate that crunch, especially in things like tuna or chicken salad, so sometimes I just do without. An added bonus is that chopped celery can release water, so my sandwiches are a little less soggy now.
Do you have this dilemma, too? If so, how do you work with it?
(Image: Nature's Finest Produce)