Celeriac is such an odd looking vegetable, round and knobbly, with a delicate taste and a powerful smell which tends to linger in a not unpleasant fashion. When I first set eyes on it, I had no idea what on earth it was, let alone what to do with it as we certainly never had it at home when I was growing up. Apparently it was originally classified as a herb, full of vitamins and mineral salts, and highly valued for its medicinal properties, but over the centuries, it has taken two very distinctive forms through selected breeding: one is what we know as celery, with frondy leaves and crunchy stalks, which hardly exists here; and the other is commonly known as a root vegetable like the carrot or turnip although it is actually a corm, the celeriac. In Turkish there is only word for both varieties: kereviz. At this time of year, it is most commonly used in this olive oil dish but can also be grated into salads either on its own or with carrots, used to flavour soups, or made into gratins and delicious creamy mashes with potatoes. I had it in my head to look out for them at my weekly market yesterday as despite the warm sun, autumn is in the air: I was not disappointed. There they were, along with mountains of cabbages and cauliflowers, pumpkins and pomegranates, heralds of the colder months which lie ahead.
Ingredients for Zeytinyağlı Kereviz/Celeriac in Olive Oil
4 medium celeriac/kereviz
2 medium potatoes
3 sugar lumps
¼ cup olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
1 cup hot water
1 gently heaped tbsp salt
1. Put the juice of half the lemon and 2 cups of water into a bowl. Trim and peel the celeriac, cut into rounds a little thinner than your finger, halve these, and place in the bowl. Trim and scrape the carrots, then using a fork, make a pattern as in the picture. Peel and cube the potatoes. Peel and chop the onion quite finely. Wash all of them and put into the acidulated water along with the celeriac so that none of them discolour.
2. Drain all the vegetables and put them in a wide pan along with the salt, sugar, remaining lemon juice, olive oil, and 1 cup of hot water. Cover with a lid and cook on a low heat for 40 minutes till the vegetables are soft.
3. Leave to cool in the pan before transferring to a serving dish.
Traditionally this kereviz dish is eaten as a second course, after a hot dish, but it also makes a fine starter which is easier carefully served with a slotted spoon onto individual plates. A little of the cooking liquid can be spooned over each.
§ The lemon and water is to keep the peeled kereviz white so don’t leave them exposed to the air too long as they will turn an unappetising brown!
§ I did prepare the carrots with the fork as required in this particular recipe by Alev Kaman in Modern Türk Mutfağı , but it is certainly not essential. They can simply be sliced in thin rounds or on the diagonal.
§ As with many zeytinyağlı dishes, I always feel the urge to grind some pepper over the finished dish, for aesthetics as much as anything. However, this is not part of Turkish cooking. In traditional restaurants one doesn’t find pepper mills: these are part and parcel of the upmarket places offering meals with a western twist, which is also why for a very long time it was nigh on impossible to find a decent pepper mill here!