Fairy tales are more than true — not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten. G.K. Chesterton
One of the deepest and strangest mysteries of winter is how we get through it without our spirits breaking. In the dark months, the cryptic is king. Gnarly roots, bubbling broths, twisted shapes, pinches of earthly spice, it’s the stuff of fairy tales. For me winter sets the tone for challenge. Sometimes just breathing in the cold seems difficult. But challenges build character and once you embrace the challenge, you’ll find your strength.
With the temperatures well below freezing yesterday, the stage was set for me to pull out my cauldron and start my witch’s brew. I collected the ugliest and most whimsical roots I could find to throw them in a pot and make a scalding soup out of them.
Like in any fairy tale, this ugly celeriac has a burning secret. The scary and unfamiliar actually masks an inner beauty in the form of incredible taste! The celery flavor of the celery root monster is buttery, luscious, creamy and surprisingly concentrated. Pair it with tart apples and smoky pepper and a pinch of salt and you’ve got yourself a keeper for the winter. The root is extremely versatile so you can add whatever you want to this broth: apples, chorizo, cilantro, olive oil, ginger, turmeric, chives, scallions, anything really. My recipe is just a sketch. You can also safely eat this ravishing beauty raw. As my potion (aka soup) was brewing I combined little julienned bits of celeriac with the diced apple and some pepper strands for a little winter/fall salad.
So how are we to brave the storms? By embracing the challenges. Winter sports are definitely part of my arsenal. But I think this soup and others like it are part of the answer. It’s us fighting back in the kitchen, doing battle with the elements and defeating the frost-breathing dragon from the inside out.
- 1 large celeriac (celery root) peeled and cut roughly into 1 inch cubes (See directions below for cutting instructions)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 leek, cleaned and chopped (white and light green part only)
- 1 parsnip, peeled and chopped
- 2 apples, peeled and chopped
- 2 celery stalks (optional)
- 1 inch ginger (optional), finely chopped
- kosher salt
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
- 4 cups chicken stock
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly-ground white pepper
- scant 1/8 teaspoon smoked paprika
- strands of Korean smoked pepper, Sil koch’u
To cut the celery root, muster your courage and a chefs knife. Ruthlessly saw off the gnarly roots and whiskered patches, stopping just after you’ve gone past the skin. You’ll have a lopsided sculpture, but it does the trick. From there cut into cubes or wedges as desired.
In a large pot, heat the olive oil. Add the leek and onion and cook for about five minutes, stirring frequently. Add the garlic cloves and season with salt. Continue to cook until the leeks and garlic are soft and translucent. Add the celery root, parsnip, ONE of the apples and stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a strong simmer. Cook, with the lid to the pot ajar on top, until the celery root pieces are soft and easily pierced with a paring knife, about thirty minutes.
Add pepper and chili powder, then purée using a hand mixer, or let the soup cool to room temperature and whiz in a blender until smooth. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper if desired. If the soup is too thick, it can be thinned with water or stock.
To serve, fill bowls with the other chopped apple and ladle puree into bowls. Top with chili strands and a little olive oil or more smoked paprika. This dish can be altered to add chorizo, cilantro or any other ingredients you have on hand that would enhance the flavor.