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With its gnarled head and earthy aroma, celeriac is a food for grown-ups, eaten all over Turkey at tables high and low. Berrin Torolsan’s traditional recipes make it a taste that’s easy to acquire
The other day I overheard the Turkish comedian Metin Akpınar say on a chat show how as a teenager he hated celery. ‘Days when celery was on the menu, I didn’t even want to come into the house. I couldn’t bear the smell. Yet now, if I found celery-scented eau de cologne, I’d be delighted to use it.’
I share the same sentiments, more or less. I find myself enjoying the flavour of celery more and more with each passing year. And the same goes for its sibling celeriac, which is simply a form of celery bred, probably in the 16th century, to have a bulbous lower stem.
As celery’s Latin name, Apium graveolens, indicates, it is powerful-smelling. The pronounced aroma of apiol, the essential oil which gives celery and celeriac their distinctive peppery piquancy, has interested people from very early on, both as a flavouring and for its medicinal properties. Mummies have been found in Egypt with bouquets of lotus flowers arranged with the dark-green foliage of wild celery. Dioscorides and Pliny both praised the plant’s healing properties. Celery was an ingredient of garum, the Roman condiment prepared with fermented fish and aromatic herbs, and the celebrated Roman gourmet Apicius gives recipes for celery-falvoured sauces and dips. It is difficult to tell if celery was already in cultivation at the time or was only gathered from the wild.
Although commonly regarded as a root vegetable, like the potato, carrot or turnip, the bulbous part of the celeriac plant is not actually the root but a corm, the base of the leaf stems, out of which modest roots will grow…
Recipes in this article include Celery Soup, a joy on cold winter days, celeriac braised in olive oil, served traditionally as a second course, after a hot dish, but an excellent starter, too, and Tangy Stew with Celeriac – if the meat is cooked beforehand, it takes just 15 minutes to prepare. More cookery features
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