The humble celery stalk shines in so many ways, from a bloody mary to a snack stuffed with peanut butter or pimento cheese. To me, it's the cracker of the vegetable world. It's what I reach for when I want a snack or a salad that is pure and simple and uncomplicated. Conveniently, it also happens to be high in fiber and low in calories.
There is an urban legend that it has zero calories — meaning that it takes more calories to digest than it contains. That is not true, but it always makes me feel better when I am on a diet. And I bet celery sales spike in January, when everyone is attempting a healthy makeover of their diet.
Sadly, raw celery often is relegated to the crudite platter that hardly gets touched when there are more crave-worthy (and fattening) dishes to choose from. But it doesn't have to be that way! This January, eat your celery in my favourite have-it-your-way celery salad.
This crunchy salad is seriously satisfying and elevates celery to gourmet status. The secret is in slicing the celery paper thin with a mandolin, or the slicing blade of a food processor. A tart lemon vinaigrette and thin ribbons of real Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese enhance the dish.
The combination of cool crunchy slices of celery and thin bits of savory cheese is what makes this simple salad so satisfying. It also is a great foundation for add-in, one of the reasons that I make it all the time. Depending on my mood or what I find at the market, I fancy it up with mushrooms, fennel, apples, pears, beets — all thinly sliced — and/or walnuts, even pomegranate seeds. Try any ingredients that suit your fancy. Just keep the two main ingredients — celery and Parmesan cheese — the same.
HAVE-IT-YOUR-WAY CELERY SALAD
A food processor is the fastest way to thinly slice large amounts of celery, but a mandoline does a better job of getting the slices as thin as possible. The trouble is that it is almost impossible to use the hand guard of the mandoline when slicing celery. Some kitchen shops sell safety gloves for slicing, which can help. Another way to make it easier is to hold several celery stalks together (nestled into one another) when slicing.
Start to finish: 15 minutes
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
8 ribs celery, very thinly sliced crosswise
2-ounce chunk Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Additional salad ingredients, as desired (fennel, sliced mushrooms, fruit, nuts, etc.)
In a medium bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice and mustard. Season with salt and pepper, then add the sliced celery. Toss well to coat, then divide the celery between 2 serving plates.
Use a vegetable peeler to shave some of the cheese over each serving, then add additional salad ingredients as desired. Mushrooms, pluots and fennel make an excellent combination with this celery base.
Nutrition information per serving: 280 calories; 190 calories from fat (68 per cent of total calories); 22 g fat (6 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 20 mg cholesterol; 9 g carbohydrate; 4 g fiber; 4 g sugar; 12 g protein; 920 mg sodium.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Elizabeth Karmel is a grilling and Southern foods expert and executive chef at Hill Country Barbecue Market restaurants in New York and Washington, as well as Hill Country Chicken in New York. She is the author of three cookbooks, including "Soaked, Slathered and Seasoned."