This may sound strange for some of you, but I was brought up knowing only celeriac, the humble and ugly cousin of the beautiful celery, which I must have discovered around the age of twenty. Contrary to what some people think, celery is unpopular in several European countries and its strong anise aroma is disturbing or even unbearable for those who discover it as adults. Celery is widely available and consumed in my city and I am used to it simmered in soups, stews and other slowly cooked dishes (such as Ragù alla bolognese) where it ends up acting rather as seasoning than a distinct vegetable. I am however completely lost when it comes to keeping the celery crunchy or raw. On the other hand, I appreciate its fresh aroma, its pleasant crunchiness and its beautiful bright colour, hence my recent decision to start cooking it more often.
A couple of days ago, ready to prepare my beloved Korean Squid with Cabbage and Carrot, I changed my mind at last moment and decided to use celery as the sole vegetable. Surprised by the excellent result of what I consider an extremely unusual combination, I have decided to share my discovery with you, even though I realise that my enthusiasm for celery will seem ridiculous to those for who this vegetable has been a boring staple for years.
My impressions of the squid and celery combination are difficult to describe. The first thing I have noticed was the unusual mixture of textures. The crunchy celery and the slightly chewy, soft squid were slightly surprising, but very pleasant. The celery’s anise aroma hasn’t shadowed the delicate squid taste and gave the whole dish a fresh, awakening touch. The hot and sweet sauce (based on gochujang, the famous Korean hot paste) not only supplied a red hue the whole meal cried for, but most of all bound the two completely different ingredients into a coherent whole. This improvised, quick meal was a very welcome touch of spring in the middle of rainy autumn days and has emboldened me to further experiments with celery. I will be grateful for any ideas or recipes you would like to share with a beginning fan of celery.
If you don’t like celery, but the mention of squid makes you instantly hungry, I strongly recommend the above mentioned Korean Squid with Cabbage and Carrot, my staple and beloved way to serve squid. I must have prepared this stir-fried delight dozens of times since I discovered it on Hyosun’s blog and still am not tired of it. The sauce I have used with celery was inspired by this Korean recipe.
TIPS: If you keep the celery crunchy, make sure you use the younger stalks without “threads” (the thicker ones were not very palatable and I promised myself to use them next time in longer cooked dishes).
If you don’t have gochujang, add more chili powder mixed with one teaspoon syrup or substitute it with Chinese chili paste (the taste and texture will however not be the same because gochujang is unique).
Before I pass to the recipe I would like to express my compassion with all those affected by the hurricane Sandy. I wish you lots of strength and courage and hope that your lives will soon get back to normal.
Preparation: 20 minutes
Ingredients (serves two):
2 fresh or thawed, cleaned medium squids (mine were about 15 cm long, excluding the tentacles)
3 – 4 young celery stalks (or higher, thin parts of thick celery stalks)
2 flat tablespoons Korean chili powder
2 tablespoons oil
1 garlic clove, crushed or grated
2 tablespoons sake
1 tablespoon gochujang (Korean chili paste)
1 tablespoon maple or agave syrup
1 teaspoon sesame oil
(soy sauce or salt to taste)
1 teaspoon (or more) sesame seeds
Cut off the squid fins and put them aside.
Cut the squid tube lengthwise in order to obtain one flat sheet.
Score it diagonally into a criss-cross pattern (the interior side) and then cut it into 2 cm strips.
Do the same with the fins.
Cut the tentacles into bite-sized pieces.
Cut the celery into bite-sized pieces.
Heat the oil in a pan and stir-fry the celery for one minute.
Add the squid and the chili powder and fry them, stirring, for another 2 minutes.
Finally add the sauce ingredients. Season with soy sauce or salt to taste.
Stir-fry until the squid is cooked (about 3-5 minutes). Each strip should be white (whiter than the raw squid), curled and soft, but still slightly chewy.
Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve.