celeriac leek soup with tahini and tarragon

This recipe originally appeared in my new blog in conjunction with the Times Herald Record, The Local Feast: Eating the Hudson Valley and Catskills.

Right now there is a movement dedicated to supporting local agriculture, or local ag as called by those in the know. That means making conscientious decisions about where to buy food and cooking with locally-sourced ingredients. In grocery stores and restaurants alike, people want to know the origin of their food products, and the closer and the more seasonal, the better. It’s not just a trend, like the low-carb diet, it’s a way of thinking about food and a way of life.

AND THAT’S GREAT BECAUSE EVERYONE WINS … farmers and producers are happy campers and you’re eating fresher, more vibrant and more satisfying meals.

If you’re a New York City resident or have been to a city restaurant lately, there’s a good chance you’ve noticed menu items touting their origin in the Hudson Valley or the Catskills: Hudson Valley duck breast or honey from the Catskill Mountains. Upstaters like me feel a sweet pang of pride upon finding one of our local treasures being offered to the rest of the world.

It’s the middle of winter… where can I find these local treasures you speak of???  Union Square Greenmarket is one place to start. Even on a snowy Friday with subzero temperatures, when under a blanket seems like a more appropriate place to be, the market vendors set up shop at 8AM. So I pulled on my Bean boots and ventured into the cold in search of ingredients to make one of my favorite soups: celery root with leeks, tahini and tarragon. I picked up a handful of leeks from the friendly guys at Lucky Dog Farm. The pungent fragrance of my bag of leeks would put any mild, store-bought leek to shame. Then I swung by the crates of produce from John D. Madura Farms, and picked a few of dirt-caked, nubby celery roots. If you don’t know celery root, you should get to know it. The taste is reminiscent of celery only, well … rooty-er.  And finally, I had to select a pair of rolls filled with walnuts and raisins from Bread Alone to go with my wintry soup.

Here’s the recipe for celery root soup. After having prepared the soup twice, once as a test run with store-bought produce and again with my Greenmarket finds, I can’t stress the added layer of complexity and overall deliciousness that comes from using the latter. So when you try this recipe yourself, do try to make it to your local farmer’s market beforehand.

Ingredients:

  • 1 large or 4-5 small celery roots (about 2 – 2.5 lbs total)
  • 1 large or 2 small leeks
  • 1 quart low sodium chicken broth (can substitute veg broth)
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp tahini
  • 1 1/2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil plus more for drizzling
  • salt to taste
  • 1 bunch tarragon
  • 1 lemon
  • Hungarian paprika (optional)

Instructions:

  • Thoroughly peel celery roots. This may be difficult with all of the nooks and crannies but do your best to remove all of the outside layer, especially the dirty bits.
  • Chop celery root into small pieces, about an inch by an inch.
  • In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, add 1 1/2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil and cook celery root over medium-low heat until tender.
  • While celery root cooks, clean the leeks. *Expert tip: peel off the outermost layer, then holding the knife perpendicular to the length of the leek, cut an X in the green top – this will make it easier to wash the leek. Chop leeks (discard tough green ends) and add to celery root. Add more extra virgin olive oil if necessary. Cook until tender.
  • Pour in broth, bring to a boil and simmer for half hour. Let cool slightly then, in batches, add to food processor. Process until smooth.
  • Return to pot over low heat and stir in tahini, soy and a squeeze of 1/4 lemon. The soy adds a rich, umami kick. Then salt to taste.
  • Serve hot with a sprinkle of paprika, finely chopped tarragon, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a lemon wedge. And don’t forget a fresh roll.
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