Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Celeriac pancakes

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Celeriac Celeriac pancakes

If you're like most of us, when you push your cart through the produce section at your favorite supermarket, you rarely make a beeline for the celeriac section.

Indeed, unless you're an adventurous cook and shop at a very well-stocked grocery, there's a good chance that your market doesn't even carry celeriac. I won't ask whether you'd recognize a celeriac if you saw one, but I'll confess that it hasn't been all that many years since I had my own first encounter with this tasty root vegetable.

Also known as celery root or celery knob, celeriac ("seh-LAIR-ee-ack") looks a bit like a tan, nubby baseball with tight, hairy roots that look a little like a two-day beard. Scrub and peel, and you reach an off-white that can be sliced and served raw in salads or cooked like a root vegetable. Some people liken its aroma and flavor to parsley (or parsley root) or even turnip, but I think it smells and tastes like a close, if somewhat stronger-flavored, cousin to celery.

In the past, I've generally used celeriac (if at all) in simple preparations: Mix roughly equal amounts of celeriac and potato to make an interesting variation on mashed potatoes; or add celeriac for a more earthy and complex version of vichyssoise, the fancy-sounding but easy-to-fashion cold French potato soup.

Recently, challenged by a new and fun "ingredient of the month" activity in our interactive Food Lovers' Discussion Group, I reached into my mental hip pocket and pulled out a new idea: Celeriac pancakes!

Following the general principle of potato pancakes, I grated a couple of small celery root balls, added a little grated onion, turned the grated vegetables into a thick batter with an egg and a little heavy cream, seasoned with salt, pepper and, just because it felt right, tossed in a good ration of ground cumin seed. Formed into a half-dozen small balls and pressed down to thick pancake size, a few minutes in a little sizzling peanut oil in a hot skillet turned them into crisp-skinned, tender delights; and a bit of melted Cheddar on top of each put the icing, so to speak, on the cake.

Now, a moment of honesty: I thought they were fine, but my long-suffering bride wasn't quite as enthusiastic. She found the flavor of celeriac almost too concentrated for comfort. If you prefer a more subtle flavor, just substitute potato for about half of the celeriac in the recipe below.

To find the Food Lovers' forum discussion about celeriac, click to the original forum posting on the topic, "FLDG Ingredient of the Month: Celeriac!"

Celeriac was the featured ingredient for September, but you're still welcome to fashion something from it an post your results; these informal "food games" on our forum never expire. The ingredient for October, just announced this week, is butternut squash. For the announcement of this topic and follow-up discussion, click

INGREDIENTS: (Serves two)

2 small or 1 large celeriac (celery root)
1/2 medium sweet onion
2 tablespoons (30g) white flour
1 egg
1 tablespoon heavy cream
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons peanut oil
2 ounces sharp Cheddar cheese


1. Wash and scrub the celery root to remove any mud. Peel it, using a vegetable peeler or sharp knife. Grate it into shreds, using the large holes on a box grater or the food-processor equivalent, and put the result in a mixing bowl. Peel the onion and grate it into the same bowl.

2. Stir in the flour, the egg and the cream; add the cumin, salt and black pepper, and stir it all together into a thick batter. If it seems too dry to stick together, add a little more cream or water.

3. Form this thick batter into four to six balls the size of golf balls or a little larger.

4. Heat the peanut oil to sizzling in a large nonstick skillet. Put in the six balls of celeriac, flattening them into thick rounds. Let them cook on one side until they form a light brown crust, two or three minutes, then flip them to brown the other side. Reduce heat to medium and continue to cook, turning occasionally, until they are cooked through, perhaps 10 minutes in all.

5. While the pancakes are cooking, cut the cheese into as many thin slices as you have pancakes. When they're almost done, drape a slice of cheese over each pancake, cheeseburger-style, and continue cooking just until the cheese warms and melts a little. Serve immediately as a light vegetarian main course or a side dish.

If you're serving the pancakes as a side dish, match the wine to the main course; there's no flavor here that should "war" with any red or white wine. I found that the sharp cheddar helped bring the dish up to a ripe red (a 2003 Dolcetto), but if I were seeking an ideal match for the pancakes alone, I'd likely go with a herbal white along the lines of a Sauvignon Blanc.

Want a copy that's easy to use in the kitchen? You'll find a simple, plain-text version of this recipe, suitable for printing, online at

If you have questions, comments or ideas to share about this recipe or food and cookery in general, you're welcome to drop by our Food Lovers' Discussion Group, where I've posted this article as a new topic, "FoodLetter: Celeriac pancakes,"

Click the REPLY button on the forum page to post a comment or response. (If your E-mail software broke this long link in half, take care to paste it all back into one line before you enter it in your Web browser.)

If you prefer to comment privately, feel free to send me E-mail at

Last Week's FoodLetter and Archives

Last week's Wine Advisor Foodletter: Midwestern chili (Sept. 29, 2005)

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Thursday, Oct. 6, 2005
Copyright 2005 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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