Celery!

celery18july When I was a child my nutritionally-minded mother always kept a jar of carrot and celery sticks in the fridge for snacks. Since those days, aside from a shameful period of addiction to celery stuffed with Cheez Whiz, I have always kept a few sticks on hand for chewing upon in thoughtful, snackish moments.

It’s a crucial addition to the raw veggie tray and scoops up hummus most efficiently. It’s a great edible tool for scraping up the last of your blue cheese dressing. Those of you from Ants on a Log childhoods may crave it with peanut butter, or want to share the making of it with your own junior chefs.

Celery is a good medicinal food, a close relative of bulb fennel and celeriac. Aside from the obvious water and fibre content, it’s a traditional diuretic, antioxidant and sedative, helpful in calming muscle spasms, reducing blood pressure and improving appetite. It’s good for arthritis, gout and kidney problems. And it’s a trusted herbal treatment for parasites in animals.

Celery is a key ingredient in mirepoix – with onions and carrots – the foundation of many soups, stews and other savoury dishes. As a time-saver, you might like to chop some up and keep it in a ziplock bag in the freezer to add a salt-free flavour boost to your winter recipes. Keep those celery leaves to throw into the stock pot, too!

You can add chopped celery to your juicing ingredients, browse this selection of Celery Recipes That Are Freakishly Delicious, or make it into a salad with peanuts, if you are from a nut-allergy-free family. When I lived in England and worked for a fancy band of head-hunters, our company cook used to make a delectably simple peanut-celery-mayo salad; this one is a little more slick and works well with Asian flavours.

Thai Celery & Peanut Salad
Makes 4 servings
Ingredients:
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1/4 tsp sesame oil (optional)
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tbsp fresh lime juice
2 tsp fish sauce (or soy sauce if you prefer)
6 celery stalks, thinly sliced on the diagonal
3 thinly sliced green onions
1 thinly sliced hot red pepper (and/or sweet bell pepper if you prefer)
1 cup fresh cilantro leaves and stems, chopped
1/4 cup chopped roasted, salted peanuts
Instructions:
1. Whisk together the oil, garlic, lime juice and fish sauce.
2. Toss dressing with celery, green onion, red pepper, cilantro and peanuts.

The lovely aubergine

eggplant-fbYou may think I have been in summer hibernation, but only the blogging part of me has been. The rest of me has been keeping extremely busy with many things. One of those is writing a weekly letter for the Haliburton Community Organic Farm food box program, which will be winding up at the end of October. I thought, belatedly, I could share some of those messages with you. (If you’re in Victoria and interested in signing up for next year’s offering – a weekly certified organic food box, please email me at the food box email and I’ll put you on the list to be notified when we’ve established timings and prices, most likely in January 2017.)

Eggplant – or aubergine as I learned to call it while living in England – is a much-abused vegetable, in my experience. When, as is too often the case, it is served undercooked, it has a chewy, spongy texture which would revolt any sane eater. Properly cooked, it is soft and luscious, infused with the flavour of its surrounding ingredients. As for the salt or don’t salt question: perhaps through sheer laziness I am in the “don’t bother” camp and still love eggplant in many ways.

Delicious, okay, but is it healthy? Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! The deep purple skin’s colouring is due to an anthocyanin (a type of beneficial compound that colours berries and other ‘superfoods’) called nasunin, which has been found to be a potent antioxidant. Antioxidants work by neutralizing free radicals – harmful molecules that damage our body’s cells, causing aging and diseases like cancer. But nasunin also plays a uniquely helpful role, by removing excess iron from the bloodstream. Excess iron can cause many problems (so don’t supplement unless medically directed to do so!) including leaving harmful deposits in the heart and brain.

Eggplant also contains a compound called chlorogenic acid (found in coffee beans, apples, pears and blueberries) which researchers think may have properties effective against cancer and diabetes.

So all this goes on while you sit back and enjoy the moussaka! Like so many healthy foods, remember that the antioxidant benefits are in the skin, so recipes that call for peeling eggplant, while delicious and rich in fibre and other nutrients, won’t have this bonus.

Here’s one of my very favourite ways to enjoy it, based on a Peg Bracken recipe (anyone else remember the I Hate To Cook books?) It’s an easy and delicious veggie main course, excellent served on rice, that you can make ahead and store in the freezer for a rainy day, when it will be best appreciated.

Spicy Baked Eggplant
Serves 4-6
Ingredients:
1 large eggplant, chopped into 1/2 inch cubes (unpeeled)
¾ cup olive oil
2 cups chopped or canned tomatoes (400 ml)
1 red pepper, peeled and chopped, or 1 small jar of pimentos drained and coarsely chopped
2 medium sliced onions
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tbsp chopped parsley
1 tsp capers
1 tbsp chopped fresh basil, or 3/4 tsp dried (or to taste)
1 tbsp soy sauce
Instructions:
1. In a large frying pan, sauté the eggplant in the olive oil for about 5 minutes, until soft.
2. Add remaining ingredients and cook the mixture for about 15 minutes.
3. Pile it into a casserole dish, wrap it, cool it and freeze it.

When ready to eat it, thaw it overnight in the fridge then top it with a sprinkling of breadcrumbs. Heat half an hour at 350f and make sure it’s hot all the way through.

Enjoy!