This vegetable — gnarled, hairy, and tough — looks like something related to the mandrake. Bright green stalks with leaves like parsley sprout from the top as if only to remind you that hey, this is something to eat.
I can almost see the mandrake’s crying face as it’s yanked from a plant pot and clutched in Draco Malfoy’s hand. But rather than kill you with its screech, this muggle plant you see here will treat and feed you well.
Celeriac, or celery root, smells intensely of those more familiar celery stalks, and its taste and texture very much resembles a root vegetable. Less earthy than a beet, more flavorful and fresh than some winter squashes.
Celery root continues to grow in popularity in my kitchen. Not that it took much to convince me, but I hadn’t really seen or heard of them until this year. They are fresh, savory, and creamy when cooked and mixed into soup or mashed potatoes. NPR tells me I can turn them into fries, which I’m definitely trying next.
For now, I have this kind of warm salad with celeriac, lentils, toasted hazelnuts, and mint. It’s a solid weekend lunch that comes together fairly quickly and will leave you with some leftovers for Monday.
This is definitely a recipe where cooking times need to be respected. On the first try with this recipe, my lentils and celeriac were slightly overcooked. But when I pulled the lentils after 15 minutes and the celeriac after 8, there was more discernible texture between all the ingredients and it looked and tasted much better. Remember that both the lentils and celeriac will continue to cook a bit after being taken off the heat. Everybody’s kitchen is different, so taste as you go. Also keep in mind that celeriac will brown after it’s cut unless it’s cooked soon or rubbed with lemon.
Hazelnuts are at their best when toasted, and they add some crunch here while the mint makes this fresh. At first I thought this celery root and lentil dish would work with some rice, but it’s got enough going on all on its own. For a slightly bigger meal, pair it with a salad or make this dish the salad and serve it with a modest piece of chicken or fish.
celeriac and lentils with hazelnuts and mint
Celeriac, or celery root, is an underrated vegetable. It tastes fresh and yet softens to resemble a potato when cooked. Here, it’s complemented by earthy lentils, crunchy hazelnuts, and fresh mint. Hazelnut oil is not cheap and may be hard to find, I know; you can use more good extra-virgin olive oil instead. Serve warm.
1/3 cup whole hazelnuts with the skins on
1 cup Puy or French green lentils
2 bay leaves
4 thyme sprigs
1 celeriac (1 1/2 pounds), peeled and cut into about 1-inch strips
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons hazelnut oil, plus about 1 tablespoon more for drizzling
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
4 tablespoons chopped mint
Heat oven to 275°F. Spread the hazelnuts out on a small baking sheet and roast in the oven for 15 minutes. Once the nuts are cool, give them a rough chop.
Place lentils, water, bay leaves, and thyme in a small saucepan. Bring everything just to a boil. Turn down the heat to about medium or medium-high and let it simmer for 15 minutes or until the lentils are al dente. Make sure not to overcook the lentils and keep in mind they will cook a bit more after pulling them. Drain lentils in a mesh strainer. As the lentils simmer, cook the celery root in another saucepan filled with plenty of boiling salted water for 6 to 8 minutes, or until the root is just tender. Drain the celery root.
Combine the hot lentils in a bowl with the olive oil, 2 tablespoons hazelnut oil, vinegar, lots of salt, and a big pinch of black pepper. Gently stir in the celery root. Taste and season with more salt if necessary.
Stir in half the mint and half the hazelnuts. Move food to a serving dish or bowl. Drizzle with the remaining 1 tablespoon of hazelnut oil, and garnish with the other half of the mints and hazelnuts to serve.
Serves 4. Adapted from “Plenty” by Yotam Ottolenghi