March: It’s Celery’s Month

Does anyone out there know who decides which events, foods, people will be celebrated each month of the year? I ask because March is National Celery Month. (It is also Nutritional Health Awareness month, Women’s History month, and frozen foods month.) Why does celery deserve a whole month of celebration?

Sausage pizza with cornmeal crust

Celery: only good as a supporting role?

Personally I get it. This blog owes its existence to celery (or rather our lack of it) when we lived in Japan and pined for days when we could buy more than one stalk of celery at a time. Silly us. Now in Los Angeles, we always looking for new ways to use a full head of celery before it goes limp.

After all, there has to be more to celery than mirepoix and hors d’oeuvres?

Moving beyond Ants on a Log

Last March, Jean-Francois wrote about a surprisingly refreshing tall glass of celery. What he did not mention Pepsi’s attempt to market cucumber soda in Japan for a week or two. And Dr. Browns sells a celery soda. Maybe drinking celery (and cucumbers) might be fun way to bring out our Irish this week.

Celery is crunchy, naturally salty, and nutritious. It can be grilled, pureed, creamed, steamed, fried, pickled, infused, baked, and braised. Huffington Post has some fun ideas for celery, including a salsa with green olives and mint.

Yesterday, cooking for one, I attempted to make celery and mushroom ravioli. If you are vegan, try substituting wet okara or soy-cheese for the egg and cheese.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 chopped onion
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 5 button mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 6 wonton wrappers

Recipe:

  1. Heat olive oil in skillet.
  2. Add onions and celery. Cook until translucent.
  3. Add mushrooms and salt. Cook until all water evaporates.
  4. Transfer onions, celery and mushrooms to food processor. Add cheese and egg and blend into a paste.
  5. Put about 1 teaspoon of paste in each wrapper. Use water or egg to seal the wrappers.
  6. Cook ravioli in boiling water for 2 to 3 minutes.

I ate these bundles with a lemon butter sauce. However, I have no photo to share because I ate them in 3 minutes flat. But I will try this again, maybe adding nuts to the filling to help give the meal more weight. And I will take a photo.

In January, The New York Times published five celery recipes that put my creative effort to shame. I can’t wait to try the “Pan-Cooked Celery with Tomatoes and Parsley” and “Celery Risotto with Dandelion Greens or Kale”.

Healthy Family, a blog dedicated to living organically and healthfully, also shares four celery recipes for March, including a breakfast drink, a soup, a salad, and a treat with salmon.

By the way, 22 March is World Water Day. May we all slake our thirst and raise our passions with a stick of celery, an ice cube, and Betty Friedan.

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Mad dogs and Englishmen. And me.

What is most troubling, and sad, about industrial eating is how thoroughly it obscures all these relationships and connections.

Michael Pollan

The gate to the Hindu temple grounds was locked, and had a sign on it warning off non-believers. From my vantage, I could see a small corner of the main temple building, which sat on Bukit Gasing’s peak, on a point overlooking the jungle – and its elaborate, colourful design hinted at wonders within. There was no getting closer to get a better look, though. Even a walk along the outer wall was impossible, the only path being closed off by fences.

Clearly, the temple wasn’t the main attraction for hikers here – and it wasn’t immediately obvious what was. The way forward was blocked. To my right there was a cliff; to my left, some fairly uninviting jungle. The only way forward, in fact, was backward, down the road the cab had used to bring me here, and I already knew there was nothing particularly interesting about that. Still, I had no choice.

It occurred to me that I could have taken a minute to do some research before heading out, but I had made the decision to go on this hike on a whim. After lunch, and some prompting by Bonnie Lee over Skype, I had realized that I needed to take a few hours off. Between work and things 222, I had stared at my computer solidly, day and night, seven days a week for more weeks than made sense – and I knew there was some hiking to be done on Bukit Gasing. So I headed down to the main road without much thought, and grabbed a cab.

The cab driver had no idea where Bukit Gasing was, let alone any hiking trails, but after asking a few other drivers, he had whisked me here, up the road I was now walking back down. At least I wasn’t staring at the computer – and it was a beautiful, sunny day, on a road that offered a view of a huge mosque with a sprawling mess of city spreading out from it in every direction.

Still, I had come here for a hike, and so when I saw a gap in the trees, I decided to step through it and into the jungle. If all I was destined to do was walk down a hill today, then I figured I may as well do it surrounded by nature. I was immediately rewarded with the sight of a couple of macaques busily foraging. The one closer to me stared me down, and made a noise that I’m sure he thought was threatening, but which only managed to be cute. I steered away from him to let him get on with his day, and started my descent into what I had thought of as a jungle, but which the macaques (it now occurred to me) probably thought of as a big salad.

A cousin of the troupe I saw on Bukit Gasing, who I met in Batu Caves

The way quickly got steep, and it was at times a bit hard to get my footing, which made for a clumsy but controlled descent – and one that was noisy enough to scare off any and all creatures of the woods. Whenever I stopped to take in my surroundings, I could hear frantic activity about hundred yards ahead, as macaques crashed through the leaves to escape from the new guy in the neighbourhood.

One big salad

I came to a level clearing, and as I walked across it, casually wondering where I was, a sudden rush of sound and motion gave me a start. The dirt just ahead of me seemed to come alive, and sprinted away with a rapid series loud thumps. Whatever it was came to a stop just as suddenly, and as I got closer to take a look, I saw that it was a lizard (a monitor lizard, I now know) – at least two feet long – and it struck me that I had no idea what lived in this little piece of jungle. Did these particular lizards bite? Were there snakes? I didn’t have a clue, and hadn’t done an ounce of research, though it was clear to me now that the salad I inhabited wasn’t purely vegetarian, and I wasn’t 100% certain where I sat on the local food chain. Yet here I was, on a little used path, staring at a medium-sized carnivore staring at me, with a way to go (I guessed) and no easy way back. I reminded myself that I should plan a bit better next time, and moved along giving my new friend a wide berth.

Dragonfly

For the next fifteen minutes or so, I moved down the hill a bit more cautiously, and paying a bit more attention to the shadows. I don’t know if there are snakes on Bukit Gasing, but I do know that something brown with yellow stripes that might be a snake lurks there … as do some very cute little mammals that look like squirrels with funky haircuts. And there are dragonflies, beautiful red and burgundy ones – a small cluster of which swarmed around me when my jungle path finally met up with a real hiking trail.

The real trail was beautiful and wide. I could see the way back to the road from where I was, but decided to explore the more manicured part of Bukit Gasing while I was there, even though I was a bit thirsty by then. I made a mental note to bring water on my next impromptu hike in the tropics.

I stuck to the flat paths just to get a feel for the place, and was about to turn around and head home, when I met a sweat-drenched couple coming in the other direction. They mentioned that they had gotten lost in the paths ahead, and for a second I considered turning back. Then they mentioned that there was a river ahead, and that they had followed a steep path on the right after that. This had led them to some abandoned homes, and a very spooky ancient deity.

Well, the universe doesn’t have to ask me twice, and the wisdom of turning around suddenly evaporated.

Jungle mushroomsSo off I went to find the river and the path and the spooky deity. The river I found soon enough (the water was brown and undrinkable), along with some very funky looking mushrooms (which at this point were looking quite tasty), and I chose one of the steep paths on the right. And up I went. And up. And up.

The jungle eventually gave way to a steep escarpment, which I clambered up, until I came to a wall – a very familiar looking wall, with a Hindu temple behind it, only now I was on the wrong side of the point. Rather than climb down the escarpment (which seemed a bit treacherous) I followed a narrow path along the wall out to the point, and back to the side I had come from, hoping I would see a way through to the road (though suspecting there was none that didn’t involve pole vaulting).

And this is where I lucked out … there was a gap in the wall that I could step through, and suddenly I was where only the faithful could go, locked into rather than out of the temple grounds. I was tempted to get a closer look at the temple, but there was a gatekeeper nearby, who, when I explained how I had accidentally found my way in, was only too happy to let me out.

And so there I stood again, outside the gate, back where I had started. Drenched in sweat. In 100 degree weather, I would later learn – something that would have made sense to check before I headed out.

I found another path into the salad, and headed down the mountain again. By now, I was a bit peckish, and parched – and it seemed ironic to me that I felt this way in what was essentially a giant buffet. Edible greens, fruits, nuts, mushrooms and roots were all around me, not to mention bugs and meat in various forms – yet I had no way to know what was edible and what was not. I didn’t have the basic sense not to starve in the middle of a buffet. I was dumber than even the bugs here, who had figured out that I was food hours ago.

Note to self: the next time you go to the jungle, bring bug spray.

Rescued mushroom risotto

A few months back, I wrote an entry on stone soup, which suggested that people freeze vegetable peels and bits that they would normally compost or throw away, and then use them to make stock. If you followed that advice, you will have noticed by now that you generate a fair amount of stock. We end up making about 8 cups of it a week.

This week, I found myself with about six cups of stock to use up, and was in the mood for something heartier than soup. We also had a few oyster and porcini mushrooms that were drying up in the vegetable crisper – all of which added up to the perfect excuse to make a white wine and mushroom risotto.

I started by rehydrating the mushrooms in white wine, which not only made the mushrooms nice and plump, but also gave me a rich-coloured mushroomy liquid to start the risotto with. (Bonus! That wouldn’t happen with fresh mushrooms.) That, plus a stone soup broth that had strong corn, beet and celery notes made for a dish with a complex palette of flavours and a creamy texture. Not bad, considering that the slightly shriveled mushrooms and stock ingredients were all things that would have ended up in the bin in many homes.

Of course, we ended up with more risotto than we could eat in one sitting – but the leftovers made for very good risotto cakes.

One thing I should mention is that making risotto the old-fashioned way takes time (about 45 minutes) and much that time is spent stirring. If you don’t have time for that, you can make it in a rice cooker with a lot less fuss (there are a few recipes on-line). I’ve tried that, and the result was quite good, though not as good.

Mushroom risotto

Rescued mushroom risotto, served with faux meat balls & salad

Rescued mushroom risotto (serves 6)

Ingredients

  • ½ cup dried mushrooms
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 6 cups stone soup (or other) stock
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • ½ large onion, sliced thin
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1½ cups Arborio rice
  • ¼ cup grated parmesan
  • Salt and pepper to taste

 Directions

  • Cover mushrooms in wine, and allow to reconstitute. This can take up to 30 minutes, depending on how dry the mushrooms were to begin with.
  • While the mushrooms are reconstituting, heat your stock in a deep skillet, and keep it warm over medium low heat.
  • When the mushrooms are reconstituted, set the liquid aside for later use. Sauté the mushrooms in 1 tablespoon of the olive oil until they are tender – then set those aside for later use.
  • Heat 1 tablespoon of butter and one tablespoon of oil in a skillet over medium heat, then toss in the sliced onion and crushed garlic, and sauté until the onion is translucent.
  • Add in the Arborio rice, and sauté for an additional 2 minutes.
  • Add in the liquid from the mushrooms, and stir until it the liquid absorbed.
  • Add in the warm soup stock, one ladleful at a time, and stir until the liquid is absorbed. When you’ve used up about ¾ of the stock, add in the mushrooms, and keep going. After each ladleful is absorbed, you should taste the risotto. When the the rice is al dente, and the sauce is creamy, it will be done. You may need a little less stock than indicated, or a little more. If you need more, and have run out, just use water that has been boiled and is still warm.
  • When the risotto is done, stir in one tablespoon of butter, the parmesan cheese and salt and pepper to taste.
  • Serve immediately.
Fun facts
Amount of shriveled mushrooms saved from landfill per six portions of rescued mushroom risotto. 1/4 cup
Approximate volume of shriveled mushrooms that could be saved from landfill every year if everyone in the US had 4 servings of rescued mushroom risotto a year. 12,000 cubic meters
Approximate volume of the Tower of Pisa. 10,000 cubic meters

Save Something from Landfill Day

As one commenter pointed out, today is 2/22 (thanks, Mami), which cries to be a special day on this tiny sliver of the web. Maybe when the 222 million tons Facebook “likes” swell to numbers well beyond the current 11, I’ll have the clout to lobby for February 22 to become International Save Something from Landfill Day. Until then, I’ll just have to try making a small dent in the problem by sharing observations like this one: beet leaves and stems are tasty.

Beet green linguine

They’re often overlooked for the same reason that watermelon rind is; they live next to a real attention grabber – in this case beets. But beet leaves are tender and flavorful, and their stems are red, crisp, and have just a hint of beet flavor. Unlike beets, they don’t overwhelm, but they do add color and character to salads and other dishes.

Our most recent experiment with beets greens was a linguine with beet greens, which was good enough to share here.

Linguine with beet greens (serves 1)

Ingredients

Linguine with beet greens

  • 2 oz linguine
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp fresh garlic
  • ¼ onion
  • 5 button or crimini mushrooms
  • 5 sun dried tomatoes (the ones packed in oil)
  • 1 tsp oil from sun dried tomatoes
  • 10 oz beet leaves with stems
  • 1 pinch salt, or to taste
  • ¼ tsp pepper, or to taste
  • ¼ tsp dried chili flakes, or to taste
  • ½ oz crumbled goat cheese

Directions

  • Fill a pot with water, and bring it to a boil.
  • You’ll be lightly sautéing the vegetables for this dish, and don’t want things to over cook while you’re busy practicing your knife skills or hunting for spices, so it’s best to do all the slicing and dicing up front. So, as the water comes to a boil:
    • Crush the garlic.
    • Slice the onion.
    • Clean and quarter the mushrooms.
    • Slice the sun dried tomatoes into strips.
    • Wash the beet leaves, remove their stems, and chop them into one- or two-inch lengths.
    • Slice the beet leaves crosswise into ¼ inch strips.
    • Crumble the goat cheese.
    • Get your spices ready.
  • By now the water should be boiling, so prepare the linguine according to the package directions. While that is cooking, you can cook the vegetables.
  • Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat, and sauté the onions and garlic for two or three minutes, until the onions are translucent.
  • Add in the mushrooms, sun dried tomatoes and sun dried tomato oil, and sauté for two minutes.
  • Add in the beet leaves, and sauté until they start to wilt.
  • Throw in the stems, and sauté until they have imparted their color to the mushrooms and onions. Be careful not to over cook them, though, or they will become brownish and lose their crunch.
  • Remove from heat, and add salt and pepper to taste.
  • By now your linguine should be ready. Plate it, and top it with the sautéed vegetables.
  • Sprinkle with chili pepper flakes and goat cheese (I did that after I took the pictures).
Fun facts
Reduction in food waste per serving 10 ounces
Reduction in food waste if every person in the developed world saves just 10 ounces of beet greens from landfill About 312,500 short tons
Weight of pig iron structure of the Eiffel Tower About 8,000 short tons