When I was a kid, I’d run around all winter long in shorts and a t-shirt, to the horror of any onlooking adults. It was like the cold couldn’t touch me. I loved winter, and would’ve taken cold weather over hot any day… that is, until one day when I was fifteen, and I fell through the ice on a frozen lake. Ever since then, cold weather and I don’t get along. I finally understand what the adults were complaining about as they bundled themselves up and shook their heads at my bare arms and legs. Amazing how a little hypothermia changes things.
Thankfully, The Husband is like my very own personal space heater. The man is like a walking furnace, and when I get the chills, he’s my go-to for a big warming hug. He can put an end to shivering in ten seconds flat. My second line of defense (and perhaps a more reasonable solution than throwing The Husband over my shoulders and wearing him like a coat) is soup.
It turns out, I have a thing for creamy soups that don’t require any cream. Every year I find a new one to love, like this cauliflower and fennel soup, or this roasted red pepper one, or one of my all time favorites, butternut squash soup with sage. There’s just something about that rich, velvety texture, without the heaviness of traditional cream based soups, that I just can’t get enough of.
This celery root soup is a bit of an unusual addition to my repertoire, but one which I am happy to have discovered. For me, and I think for most of us here in the US, celery root (also called Celeriac) isn’t something we’re terribly familiar with. Which is probably why I was so drawn to it in the first place — this strange, ugly, uncharted root vegetable. How could I not be curious? To turn something so rough and strange looking into a beautiful, delicious, healthy soup… well, it’s like a magic trick. Only better, because there is no trick.
Okay, so what is this thing, anyway? Well, once you get past the looks and peel away the rough outer skin, it’s really not so scary. As the name would imply, it’s the root of the celery plant, and it tastes like, you guessed it, celery. It isn’t stringy or fibrous like celery though, and instead has a texture like that of a not-so-starchy potato. It can be boiled and mashed, sauteed, roasted, or used in any other way you might use a spud. It is low in fat and calories, high in fiber, and has a fair amount of calcium, potassium, and vitamin C, among other things. The taste is mild, but distinct, and pairs well with things like onion and garlic.
Enter, leeks. The second ingredient in the making of this soup, and probably another less-familiar vegetable in American cooking. Leeks are a close relative of onions, are a staple in French cooking, and are really easy to use once you know how. Just split them open with a couple of lengthwise cuts so you can rinse away any dirt from inside the leaves, then cut away the dark green ends (which can be tough), and chop the white – light-green parts to use in the recipe.
Okay, if all that sounds like too much work, don’t worry — I’ve included a quick photo tutorial on prepping both celery root and leeks at the end of the recipe. You’ve got this!
I’ve already said how much I love soups for being warm and nutritious, but those are only the tip of the iceberg of why I love them. They are also insanely easy to prepare, inexpensive, and can be made in huge batches and frozen for future days when I’m too lazy to chop vegetables, put them in a pot, and walk away. (Yes, there are days when I am just that lazy.)
This soup works well as an appetizer or light lunch, or the mild flavor can be punched up with garnishes to make it a little more substantial. I like to serve it with a drizzle of roasted hazelnut oil and a sprinkle of sea salt, but it would be equally good with some garlic and rosemary croutons, a hunk of sourdough bread for dipping, or a dash of chili powder for color and a bit of heat. I’ve included a bunch of serving ideas in the recipe notes, so feel free to play around and make it your own!
- 3 TBSP olive oil
- 3 lbs. Celery root (aka, celeriac), peeled and cut into ½-1 inch cubes (about 2 large)
- 2 leeks, cleaned and roughly chopped
- 2 parsnips, peeled and cut into ½-1 inch cubes
- 1 small green apple, cored and chopped
- 5-6 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
- 6-8 cups water, as needed
- ½-1 tsp. Finely ground white pepper, to taste
- salt, to taste
- Hazelnut oil, for finishing (or good quality extra virgin olive oil, for a nut-free option)
- Fluer-de-sel, or smoked sea salt, for finishing
- Place a large stock pot or dutch oven over medium-high heat, and add the olive oil. Add the leeks, garlic, and a big pinch of salt, and saute for 5-7 minutes, or until the leeks have started to turn translucent and a bit of color has started to develop on the bottom of the pot. Stir occasionally, being careful not to let the garlic burn.
- Add the celery root, parsnips, apple, and 6 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, covered until the celery root and parsnip are tender, about 40-50 minutes.
- Puree with an immersion blender, or remove the pot from the heat and carefully transfer, in small batches, to a regular blender and puree until smooth. (Always be careful pureeing hot liquids! Make sure the lid of your blender is on securely, and hold a dish towel over the top to prevent splatters.)
- If the consistency of the soup is too thick, add the remaining water, a little at a time, as needed. Add the white pepper and salt, to taste.
- Stir in a couple TBSP of hazelnut or olive oil before serving, or top with drizzle of oil in the bowl for garnish. Finish each bowl with a pinch of fleur de sel, or smoked sea salt.
Serving suggestions: serve with root vegetable chips (thinly sliced parsnips, carrot, celery root, or beets, tossed with olive oil and salt and baked until crispy) for crunch // garnish with a dash of chili powder for a pop of color and flavor // serve with homemade garlic and rosemary croutons (cube bread, toss with olive oil, minced garlic, and rosemary, spread on a baking sheet and bake until golden brown) // serve with a hunk of crusty french bread, or toast, for dipping // saute wild mushrooms in garlic and butter or oil, and spoon over the soup just before serving // for a richer (and no longer vegan) soup, try adding a splash of cream or dollop of creme fraiche at the end of cooking // or, garnish bowls with a smattering of crispy, fresh cooked bacon in place of the sea salt and hazelnut oil.
Recipe adapted from the always amazing David Lebovitz. Check out his celery root soup, here: http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2008/12/celery-root-soup/