Keeping it Real
Famously touted as providing “negative-calories,” requiring more energy to chew and digest than it contains, there may be no food more associated with dieting than the lowly celery stick.
Though celery actually does provide calories, it also offers a whole lot more in the form of flavor, phytonutrients and fiber, making it a worthwhile food to enjoy regardless of your weight goals.
Well before its culinary debut, celery was used medicinally as early as the 9th century B.C. The oil of the celery seed contains the most potent medicinal properties, used in ancient times to treat everything from colds and flu to poor digestion, arthritis and liver ailments.
Originating in the Mediterranean basin, wild celery spread throughout the world, sprouting up in Sweden, Egypt, Algeria, India, New Zealand, California and all the way to the southernmost portions of South America. Celery was first domesticated as a vegetable in Italy in the 1600s.
While its stalks were originally hollow, years of selection by growers resulted in the solid, less bitter version we know today.
There are three common types of celery known worldwide: stalk celery, celery root, or celeriac, and leaf celery, or smallage. Stalk celery, whose leaves, stalks (or petioles for the botany nerds out there) and seeds are all edible, is the most common variety grown in the U.S.
Celery in its many forms has been shown to lower cholesterol and blood pressure and prevent and treat ulcers in the GI tract. The slender stalk boasts a dozen unique antioxidants including quercetin, a powerful anti-inflammatory and natural antihistamine. Celery can also help beat bloat due to its natural, mild diuretic effect. As for the negative-calorie claim, one medium celery rib contains about six calories but takes only half a calorie to digest.
When purchasing celery at the grocery store, consider that this crop consistently lands on the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list of produce with the highest pesticide content; seek out organic when possible.
For true celery lovers, I’ve found locally grown Wisconsin varieties tend to be more strongly flavored and snappier than commercially grown ones. Regardless of where you purchase it, be sure to choose bunches with leaves that are bright green and not wilted.
There’s an ongoing debate in my household on the merits of raw celery, which I love and my husband could surely live without. For him and I’m sure many others, the stalk’s stringiness is often a point of contention, but just know these tough strands can be quickly removed with a paring knife or peeler.
As for its uses, celery’s slightly salty, parsley-like flavor and one-of-a-kind texture shine in many dishes. One of three members, along with carrots and onions, in classic mirepoix, sautéed celery rounds out the flavor of soups, stews and sauces.
For a satisfying snack, try jazzing up the kids’ classic “ants on a log” by swapping out peanut butter for cashew butter and topping with dried cherries, or even crystalized ginger pieces, in place of raisins.
An even more sophisticated celebration of this humble veggie is a recipe from Food52.com for Marcella Hazan’s celery braised with onions, plum tomatoes and pancetta.
Chopped finely, raw celery adds a quintessential crunch to salads of all sorts. My personal favorite way to use it is in tuna salad along with tender sweet peas and a dollop of basil pesto, as in the recipe below.
Ashleigh Spitza is a registered dietitian and freelance writer in Wauwatosa who blogs at funkybeetsblog.com.
Chopped raw celery and celery seed add crunch, flavor and nutrition to this tuna salad.
Tuna Salad with Celery, Peas and Pesto
Recipe tested by Ashleigh Spitza
Makes 4 small servings
- 2 cans (5 ounces each) tuna packed in water, drained
- ½ cup whole-milk Greek yogurt
- 2 tablespoons prepared basil pesto
- 1 teaspoon dried mustard powder
- 2 teaspoons celery seed
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 3 medium ribs celery, diced
- ¾ cup sweet peas, thawed if frozen
Prep time: 10 minutes.
In a medium bowl, combine tuna, yogurt, pesto, mustard powder, celery seed and salt and pepper. Stir well. Fold in celery and peas.
Cover and refrigerate about 2 hours to cool and allow flavors to meld. Serve with grainy crackers, folded in a lettuce leaf or on top of celery ribs, endive or hollowed cucumbers.
Per serving: 137 calories, 6g carbohydrate, 20.5g protein, 4g fat (1.5g saturated), 286mg sodium, 1.5g fiber.
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