It started last September. That’s when I first mixed Bon Appétit’s unusual-sounding celery tonic. The refreshing, gin-forward cocktail championed celery as a star ingredient instead of as an also-ran. It was the beginning of an idée fixe. Of course, celery is hardly new but the stalks usually gets the preschool treatment—ants on a log, carrots and celery, and well, not much else. Until recently. Dishes around town indicate that celery is getting a much-deserved second look.
When 5280 released its cookbook in October, Harman’s Eat & Drink‘s recipe for celery root tater tots was included. The dish (page 28) mixes grated celery root with grated potato to make little seasoned patties that are then fried. Swabbed through chipotle aïoli, the tots are excellent on their own but the real point of interest comes from the tangy pickled celery served on top.
In November when Hosea Rosenberg opened Blackbelly (one of 5280‘s Best New Restaurants), he did so with a salmon entrée sided with a crunchy and astringent apple and pickled celery salad. Although that dish has cycled off the menu, the pickled veggie still shows up alongside Blackbelly’s charcuterie boards. Rosenberg also says he’s playing with a celery soup recipe that might go on the menu as early as next week.
Celery’s unique, slightly acidic flavor also stars alongside mandoline slices of Gala apple in a red and white quinoa salad (pictured) at the month-old Lowry outpost of Bubu. Chef and co-owner Troy Guard tosses compressed celery (created by combining the vegetable with lemon, honey, and rice vinegar in a vacuum-sealed packet) with a slightly spicy Chinese vinaigrette. “I love the crunch and the textures,” he says. “I also love the different components: sweet, tart, spice.” Indeed, the salad is so captivating, that I’ve since tried to recreate it in my home kitchen.
And then last week, at the Denver Restaurant Week After Party that doubled as a showcase for 5280‘s Best New Restaurants issue, Cart-Driver chef and co-owner Kelly Whitaker also tapped the stalks. Whitaker served his spectacular tuna mousse spread on focaccia and topped with shaved apple and, you guessed it, pickled celery. To add interest, Whitaker chars the vegetable in Cart-Driver’s oak-fired oven before soaking it in wine, vinegar, and sugar.
Only time will tell if celery becomes the new kale. But in the meantime, it’s worth thinking of the crunchy stalks as more than just a lunchbox snack.
Bonus: Intrigued? Make this celery and fennel salad from Bon Appétit. The dish is an excellent foil for rich dishes such as barbecue or risotto.