This recipe is in the winter section of Peter Berley’s Fresh Food Fast, and I’ve been wanting to try it for a while now. Berley says that the salad is “all about the nuance of crunch. The green apple, celery, and walnut each have a different yet complementary toothsome quality in the mouth.” It seemed like a great winter salad, but I was nervous about making this recipe because Derek normally isn’t too excited about celery. I thought I might have to eat all four servings myself. I shouldn’t have worried though — Derek loved it.
The recipe says to cut the celery on the bias into 1/8-inch thick pieces about 1 inch in length. It took me a minute to figure out which direction was thickness and which direction was length, but I figured it out. Most celery is about 1 inch wide which yields slices that are about 1 inch in length. But sometimes the bottom of the celery can be two or even three inches wide. In that case you have to cut it into two or three strips. I really like the very thin, diagonal strips of celery (although I doubt I actually got my slices to be only 1/8-inch thick). I think cutting on the bias is really crucial to the recipe. There’s just something mundane about regular straight-across slices of celery.
Berley says to soak the celery in cold water and refrigerate while you make the rest of the salad. I had no room in my fridge so I skipped this step, but my celery was still crunchy. I had soaked the uncut celery stalks in water for a few hours before making the salad, so maybe that helped. (There’s more discussion of this below.) The celery is sliced. Next you toast some walnuts. While the wanuts cool you make the mustard dressing. This dressing has a lot of dijon mustard (2 Tbs.!), the same amount of lemon juice, a clove of garlic (whoops, I forgot it!), a little honey, pepper, and salt (I think I halved the salt, since the mustard is already salty), and lots of olive oil. The recipe calls for 5 Tbs. of olive oil but I put in 2 and it tasted good to me. But Derek likes dressing less sour than me so I added one more tablespoon of olive oil. That was definitely enough. I think the dressing wouldn’t have enough acid with the full five tablespoons of oil. The dressing is similar to the one for the green bean salad in Berley’s Modern Vegetarian Kitchen.
Once the dressing is made you thinly slice the apple (Berley’s instructions for this were very clear, and I liked the size of the apple slices), and toss them in the dressing with the celery, the cooled walnuts, and 1/4 cup minced celery leaves.
There was much more celery than apple in this salad, but I actually liked the ratio. The apple added just a hint of sweetness. Another apple and the salad would have been too sweet I think. The amount of walnuts was also perfect. They added a little bitterness to every bite.
Even Derek liked this salad. He said it “made celery taste good”. We both ate several sides of salad. The recipe says it serves four but I think that’s four quite large servings. It probably makes 6-8 small side servings.
Update October 10, 2012
I made this salad again following the recipe closely, except that I cut the olive oil down substantially and halved the salt. I ended up using 341g of celery, 33g of walnuts, only 1 Tbs. of olive oil, and 1/4 tsp. of fine salt. I used a French mustard with lots of mustard seeds in it. I forgot to add the celery leaves. I thought the recipe turned out perfectly. I loved it! The only change I would make is to look for a slightly smaller granny smith or tart green apple. Mine was a tad small.
- 6 large or 8 medium celery stalks
- 1/3 cup roughly chopped walnuts
- 2 Tbs. freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2 Tbs. Dijon-style mustard
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 2 tsp. honey
- 1/4 tsp. fine salt [originally 1/2 tsp. coarse sea salt]
- 1 Tbs. olive oil [originally 5 Tbs.]
- freshly milled black pepper
- 1 large Granny Smith apple (or other tart and crunchy apple)
- 1/4 cup minced celery leaves
Update Dec 2015
Celery Salad with Pickled Plum Vinaigrette and Toasted Walnuts
There’s a similar celery salad recipe in The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen, except it just has celery and walnuts (no apples), cuts out the lemon juice, and replaces one tablespoon of mustard with umeboshi paste.
- 6 large celery ribs + enough leaves to pack 1/4 cup
- 1/3 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
- 1 Tbsp. umeboshi paste
- 1 Tbsp. whole-grain prepared mustard
- 3 small garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 2 tsp. cane sugar or maple syrup
- 1 1/2 tsp. coarse sea salt [I left this out]
- 6 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil [I used 3 Tbsp.]
I chopped up some umeboshi plums to make the paste, left out the salt entirely (since the mustard and umeboshi were salty), and cut the olive oil in half. The dressing was good — Derek really enjoyed it, calling it an umame bomb. But I missed the extra textural contrast from the apples. Other fruits or veggies would have probably also been good. Maybe radishes? Or endive? Next time I might reduce the oil further, as it was quite rich. And maybe add back in a little lemon juice for the acidity.
A few extra comments about buying, storing, and reviving limp celery:
Buying celery: Celery stalks and leaves go pale green and then yellow as the celery ages, so try to buy celery that’s dark green. However, even when the celery is fresh the inner leaves will often be yellow since they’re not exposed to much light (and hence don’t make much chlorophyll).
It’s a good idea to buy organic celery, since (at least in the States), celery is number one on the list of vegetables/fruit with the most pesticides. I’m not sure why this is. It’s probably partly because celery has no protective skin, so it’s almost impossible to wash off the chemicals that are used on crops.
Storing celery: In 2005 Cook’s Illustrated did a small experiment to find the best way to store celery. They removed the outermost stalks (not sure why) and stored the celery in different ways in the fridge for one week. They found that the best way to store celery is wrapped in aluminum foil:
At the end of one week, the celery in the paper bag was still green but slightly limp, the celery in the original plastic packaging was slightly more bendable and faded in color, and the bunch [standing in two inches of] water even more dried out — these methods all allowed too much moisture to escape; the celery became limp as it dehydrated. Both the plastic- and foil-wrapped celery, however, remained amazingly green and firm. Given another week, only the foil-wrapped celery was still mostly green and crisp. Why did the foil work so well while the plastic wrap eventually failed? Celery continues to respire after it is harvested and produces small amounts of the ripening hormone ethylene. This gas activates enzymes that break down and soften the cell walls in celery, creating moisture loss. Ethylene easily gets trapped when celery is wrapped tightly in plastic, causing the vegetable to go limp and spoil faster than when wrapped in aluminum foil, which is not “gas tight.”
One last note about celery storage/usage. I saw someone online recommend that rather than breaking off a stalk and using them one at a time, just cut across the top of the celery whenever you need a small amount. That way it gets shorter and easier to store! An interesting idea, but I wonder if the celery would go limp faster?
Reviving celery: If your celery is at all limp it always helps to soak it in water. The half-full cells fill up with water again quite quickly, and the celery perks right back up. If your celery is really limp you can even rejuvenate it by standing it in a jar of water overnight. Some online instructions say to cut about an inch off the bottom of the celery before trying to revive it, but I’m not sure this is necessary.