Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Braised Celery with Mustard Mash

Celery Heads - they grow so big. And though that's what we all want from a seedling, sometimes a whole head of celery is just...a lot. I get excited about the outer crunchy stalks for a few days, maybe dip them in hummus or use them to make jambalaya, then tuck the rest away for another day. Then another week goes by and the last few stalks call it quits. But it's almost a resentful kind of quits because my celery never gets soggy or brown, it just wilts. "See me? I'm green still. But I've lost my snap. Thanks to you." That's what my celery says to me when it passes its dipper or scooper prime. So what can be done with that limp, abandoned and seemingly hopeless last bit of celery hiding in the back of your "crisper" that hasn't done too well in keeping your green stalks crisp? Embrace it. Ah-hem, excuse me, em-braise it.

Braising is a lovely technique if you have a dose of patience and an eye for when to stop the heat. It can be perfect for yielding effortless sauces but a curse if you neglect your veggies to the point of mush. It really doesn't take that long, and the ingredient list is short. The method works well on almost every vegetable, particularly those that have already lost their oomph. While I don't typically think of celery as a main gig in any dish, it's a terrific star in this fabulously simple dish.

Now let's get to the potatoes. But more seriously, let's get to the mustard. I had some mustard mashed potatoes on, of all places, an airplane. Yes first class on a transatlantic flight has its benefits, one being meals that more closely resemble food. Ever since the flight back from Italy, I can't mash potatoes without mustard. Stone ground, semi-sharp. I use Annie's Horseradish Mustard in these potatoes because I love anything with horseradish in it. For those that don't care for it, you can use any other stone-ground mustard or maybe even get funky with a Sierra Nevada Stout or Porter variety.

As for the crunchy peas - so many braised celery recipes I found used some kind of bacon or pork fat to flavor the celery. While that makes me wanna hurl just a little bit, I appreciate what the smokiness of bacon might contribute. Personally, I though using vegetable bouillon was more than enough to keep the celery flavorful, but I was curious about the bacon. So I concocted a little something as a garnish of sorts to just throw on top for fun. It was fun. It tasted fun. And I think my poor neglected celery-turned-belle-of-the-ball felt extra special too.

Braised Celery with Mustard Mashed Potatoes
Makes: 3-4 Servings
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes


For the celery
2 tsp olive oil
1/2 c. leeks or onion, sliced thinly
2 c. celery, chopped
1 1/2 c. vegetable broth
1/2 T. flour (chickpea or all purpose)
2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper to taste

For the mashed potatoes
2-3 medium russet potatoes, cubed
1 T. stone ground mustard
1/2 T. Earth Balance
1-2 T. nutritional yeast
Salt to taste

Optional Topping
1/2 c. peas (frozen or raw, thawed if using frozen)
1 T. Veggie bac'un bits 


To make the celery: Heat olive oil in a deep skillet over medium high heat. Add onions and saute until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add celery and continue to cook 3-4 minutes more. Add bay leaves and broth, stirring to make sure celery is dispersed in an even layer throughout the pan. Sprinkle the flour over the top and cover. Cook 15-20 minutes, stirring every few minutes, until celery is tender to your liking.

To make the potatoes: In a large sauce pan, bring potatoes to a boil. When boiling, reduce the heat to medium and cook at a low boil for 10-15 minutes or until a fork passes easily through the potatoes. Drain potatoes when done, reserving the cooking water for the mashing. Return the potatoes back to the warm pot and mash with a form or potato ricer. Add mustard, nutritional yeast, Earth Balance and 1/4 to 1/3 cup of the cooking water. Continue to mash until everything is incorporated and smooth. Add salt to taste.

Optional topping: Coat a small skillet with cooking spray and heat the peas until just warm and sizzling. Add bac'un bits and remove from heat. Stir until bac'un bits have warmed and use as garnish over potatoes and celery.

To assemble: Shape a big messy pile of potatoes into some kind of round volcano shape. Pour 1/2 cup of braised celery in the middle and top with a lil smokey scoop of green peas. Indulge.

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