Cooking with Celeriac, Coconut and Pomegranate

Andrea DiMauro

Andrea DiMauro › Andrea is the Creative Director for Food Truth, an online resource that empowers eaters to walk ...

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Chefs capture our interest by introducing new ingredients to their menus. Ordinary folks are extraordinarily adventurous when someone else is doing the cooking. Markets have expanded their offerings dramatically to accommodate people of diverse backgrounds. When you see a new ingredient do you stealthily avoid it or are you drawn to it like a moth to a flame, but then watch it wither on your countertop because you don’t know what to do with it?

Here are a few familiar yet still esoteric ingredients found in our winter markets that are easily integrated into your real food eating style: celeriac, coconut and pomegranate.

CELERIAC

Maybe the biggest challenge with this one is knowing how to pronounce it: sell-air-e-ak (or just wimp out and call it “celery root”). In any case, this homely orb is quite nutritious and worth getting familiar with. Although it’s not as showy as its relatives, carrots, parsley and fennel, it can do almost everything a potato can with far less starch. The flavor is celery-like with some nuttiness and the texture is creamy. What you need to know is that it should be firm when you buy it and that you must peel it. Once peeled, it will discolor quickly so add the peeled pieces to a bowl of salted water until you are ready to cook them. It can be boiled tender in 20 minutes or roasted in 40.

Try making celeriac “fries”: peel and cut into 1/4″ sticks, blanch in salted boiling water for 3 minutes, then dry off completely. Deep fry in grapeseed oil (350°), drain on paper and season with salt and pepper.

COCONUT

You’re probably well-acquainted with shredded coconut and coconut oil is happily back in fashion, but have you ever bought one of these hairy spheres whole?

Whole green coconuts are harvested when the meat is soft and rubbery and it can be scooped out with a spoon and added to smoothies, curries and baked treats. Remove the husk, poke through the “eyes” (the soft spots at the stem end) and let the milk drain into a bowl before you crack open the shell.

When mature coconuts are harvested the shell is very hard and the meat is firm. To get to it you must also poke the “eyes,” drain the milk and then crack the shell. There are various methods to do this involving machetes, hammers and power tools but I find the least aggressive and most reliable to be a 350° oven. The shell will eventually crack enough so that you can pull it away from the meat. Cut the meat into chunks and return it to the oven to lightly toast for a chewy, slightly sweet snack or purée it in the food processor to add to your baking or to make coconut milk. Here’s how: In a blender or food processor, finely chop 1 cup coconut meat chunks. Add 1 cup of warm water and purée until fluffy. Strain through cheesecloth into a bowl, pressing out all of the liquid. Reserve the liquid and use in place of cow’s milk in almost anything: baked treats, puddings and creamy soups.

POMEGRANATE

Ten years ago most Americans were unfamiliar with these ancient fruits, but since they were deemed heart-healthy everything has been wonderfully pom’d. Broad claims are made about pomegranate juice lowering  blood pressure and fighting cancer, but that’s not all: it is also credited with increasing bone mass and fighting depression. So naturally there are loads of extracts and supplements available, but how about the real thing? How do you get to those precious ruby jewels, technically named “arils”?

Score the skin of a whole pomegranate with a sharp knife and pull the fruit apart into two halves. In a bowl of clean water, separate the arils from the white pith with your thumbs and let them sink to the bottom. Alternately, squeeze the juice from each half using an orange press or just go for it with your bare hands as long as you aren’t wearing your best white shirt!

Greek, Middle Eastern and Mexican cuisines feature pomegranate juice in rich, savory stews and sauces. You’ll find this simplified version of a classic Caucasian beef stew with pomegranate and ground walnuts in the Food Truth app:

BEEF STEW WITH POMEGRANATE-WALNUT SAUCE

In a food processor, coarsely chop 2 cups walnut pieces with ½ cup fresh cilantro leaves. Brown 3 pounds beef chuck or other stew meat in a cast iron pot or dutch oven. When meat is browned, remove to a plate and sauté 2 chopped onions in the beef fat that remains. Meanwhile, stir together 2/3 cup pomegranate juice, 1 tbsp lemon juice and 2 cups beef broth. When onions are translucent, add this liquid to the pan and scrape up all of the browned bits. Bring to a simmer and add the walnut/cilantro puree. Stir smooth and add the beef chunks. Cover and finish the stew in a 350° oven for an hour more. Absolutely rich and exotic!

Baffled by bok choy? Confounded by currants? Flummoxed by fennel? Find 25 seasonal foods with three inspiring prep ideas for each in the new Food Truth app! Search Food Truth in the App Store. 

Photo Credit: Wikimedia