Of Celery Root Soup And Forgotten Vegetables

Soup as a main lunch or supper dish has fallen out of popularity in the recent decades – and, in my opinion, entirely unfairly and rather counterproductively so – whether you mean in terms of health, kitchen economy or downright gastronomic enjoyment.

Celery Root Soup

I have written about making basic bouillion or bone stock before, and about chicken soup specifically, and those are amazing either on their own, or as a base for another dish, but they do take time to prepare.   Pureed vegetable soups, on the other hand, are quick, easy and reasonably fail-proof (like anything, they can be ruined – but the directions are really, really simple), and so eminently suitable as a quick lunch or supper dish for the busy cook.  Better yet, the main ingredients for these are usually either long-term storage-friendly like root vegetables, or freezer-compatible (like spinach for example).  And, did I mention they are delicious?

Actually, now that I think of it, I have mentioned it before.  On the other hand, there are so many interesting vegetables out there, and so many amazing recipes, that there is absolutely no reason not to mention it again.  And again and again in the future.

The flavor of pureed vegetable soup can be made as complex or as minimalist as you like, which is great for both, experienced chefs and beginners – since you can make it foolproof by only using one vegetable and minimal seasoning, and if you’ve picked a vegetable you like, then you will have a soup you like.  Then of course there are classic pairings like pumpkin and ginger, or carrot and coriander (which I personally cannot abide, but that may be my aversion to cooked carrots), potato and Jerusalem artichoke, or sweet potato and parsnip.  And, obviously, for those who are better at improvising, things can be blended together in new and exciting ways.

Which brings us to the star of today’s lunch and the latter part of the post title.  Celery root or celeriac is one of those vegetables that are commonly found in nearly every supermarket, but that many people wouldn’t know the name of off the top of their head, left alone what they taste like or used for.  Though I have to give credit to Swedes – they are far better than, for example, the British, in the use of the various vegetables which have been traditional before the introduction of tomato and potato – such as turnips, beets, their namesake the swedes (aka rutabagas), and even black salsify (svartrot) – and so those all can be found in a decent Swedish supermarket.  The main reason for the fact that a lot of these vegetables were forgotten, is that they are for the most part harder to grow, have lower starch content, and are less versatile than the potato.  On the other hand, many of these have very good nutrient profile and – compared to the potato – a lower caloric density and lower GI load.  And, obviously, there is also the fact that all of these have their own interesting and varied flavors.

So – lower in calories and carbs, higher in minerals and vitamins, and quite often tastier than potatoes?  What’s not to like?  Nothing, actually.  And, considering what I’ve mentioned about these vegetables being storage-friendly, they make a wonderful standby dish.

I don’t actually make any low-calorie claims for the soup itself, as I tend to use butter and cream very generously in my root vegetable soups.  But as that doesn’t make it at all LCHF-unfriendly, I don’t actually tend to mind it.  Besides, adding heavy cream to soup instantly creates a gourmet nirvana.  Who am I to argue with that?

Very basically, a root vegetable soup contains said root vegetable, salt, stock or water and cream.  For more flavor, garlic, onion, and spices can be added, but they are both, optional and interchangeable within reason.  Of course, I believe in butter, cheese, bacon bits and other garnishes to make it just that little bit more special, so the recipe given below goes a little further than the above summary.

What you need for a 3L pot of soup (feeds several people once or two people several times):

  • 1 medium or 3/4 large celeriac root, peeled and cut into 1-2cm long bits about 5mm thick.  (A large celeriac root is >15cm in diameter.)
  • 1 small or 1/2 large onion, peeled and chopped
  • 2-3 spring onions or scallions – sliced, whites and green parts separated (optional – greens are used for garnish)
  • 1L chicken stock or 1 tablespoon good-quality chicken stock concentrate (such as Touch of Taste or Marks&Spencer stock concentrate for example).  I use Touch of Taste (it’s what’s commonly available in Sweden), as I tend to use any chicken stock I have for clear soups, and it is more than good enough for pureed soups.
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and smashed, or 1 teaspoon dried garlic granules
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 50g butter
  • 2 tbsp refined rapeseed or peanut oil
  • 2dl heavy (36% – 40% fat) cream
  • a pinch of dried red chili flakes
  • Sea salt and pepper to taste
  • Finely shaved parmesan, romano, gran moravia or grana padano cheese to garnish

What to do:

  • Preheat a non-stick frying pan on medium-high heat and add 1 tablespoon of oil and about as much butter.  When butter foams up, add about half to 1/3 of the chopped celery root, and fry gently until just beginning to color.
  • Transfer each batch to the soup pot.
  • Repeat the above steps 1-2 more times with remaining celery root and butter.
  • Add the stock or 1tbsp of concentrate and some boiled water, and turn to medium-low heat.
  • Add a little more oil to the pan and fry the onions (including white parts of spring onions if using those) until soft and beginning to color.  Add the garlic clove if using, and fry a few seconds until aromatic.  Add the above to the pot with the celery and deglaze the frying pan with a bit of water, pouring that into the pot as well.
  • Add 2 bay leaves, the pinch of chili flakes, and the garlic granules (if using) to the pot.
  • Stir and add enough water to cover the vegetables.  Bring to a low boil and simmer for 10-15 minutes.
  • Remove the bay leaves and puree the soup in batches, adding water as necessary to make blending possible.  Return the pureed soup to the pot.
  • Add 2-3dl cream and enough boiling water to dilute soup to desired consistency.  Season with salt to taste.  Note:  salt takes a while to dissolve in pureed soup – start with a small amount, add, allow it to dissolve, stir and then taste before adding more.
  • Lower the heat and bring the soup to a very gentle simmer.  Do not allow to come to a hard boil.  Simmer for 5 minutes.
  • While the soup is simmering, shred the cheese and cut up the green parts of the scallions (spring onions – if using).
  • Ladle soup into bowls, season with freshly-ground black pepper, garnish with sliced scallions and shredded cheese and serve on its own or with some lightly-buttered rye crispbread.

Enjoy the nutty, delicately flavored and oh-so-good for you soup.  Resist cold-weather blues.  As a bonus, this also freezes very well and can then be reheated on-demand in a pot or a microwave on a day when you feel particularly soup-needy and not in any shape to do kitchen gymnastics to feed yourself.  You know, we all have those days.

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