Celery Root Is The Key To Sweet, Buttery Mashed Potatoes

Mashed potatoes may be a favorite comfort food among many, but sometimes you just need to switch things up a little from the standard of Yukon golds and butter. Whether you're looking for something a little more fresh in terms of taste, or simply want to lighten up your usual potato recipe without sacrificing flavor, there's a lesser-known vegetable out there that can get the job done: celery root.

This root veggie, which you can find in most major supermarkets (especially during its in-season period during the winter), adds a hint of fresh, earthy, sweetness to typically heavy mashed potatoes. It's easily added to any mashed potato recipe, and, due to its density, it adds a thick, robust texture alongside its unique flavor. You won't even need milk or cream to finish it off; just a touch of butter, a sprinkle of salt, and maybe a little garlic or spice (such as nutmeg or cayenne pepper) if you feel like it.

What is celery root and why does it work in mashed potatoes?

Celery root, sometimes referred to as "celeriac," is the part of a larger celery plant that grows underground. This root veggie is bulblike in appearance and has a mild flavor when eaten raw, though similarly sweet and vegetal as the celery stalks you may be familiar with. When cooked, it takes on a taste similar to parsnip. The starchy vegetable is versatile in preparation and can be grated and served raw for salads, sliced and roasted or sauteéd, or cooked down into a mash as described.

In mashed form, it's nearly indiscernible texture-wise from mashed potatoes, though be sure to remove any fibrous interior bits and mash well when preparing. For best results, lop off the ends and then use a large kitchen knife to cut away the peel, as the exterior will likely be too knobby for a peeler. Dice both vegetables into even-sized cubes to ensure even cooking.

While you can certainly eat mashed celery root on its own, mixed with some butter and milk and seasoned with salt and pepper, folding it into mashed potatoes balances the more distinct flavor of the celeriac with the familiar, comforting flavor of that favorite spud-packed side dish. When making celery root mashed potatoes, you'll want to either boil them together for around 15 minutes or give them a quick sauté in some olive oil or butter before boiling and draining.

Tips for choosing, storing, and cooking with celery root

If you've never purchased celery root before, it's fairly easy to shop for a good one. You want a firm, heavy specimen that's small but weighty; smaller roots tend to have fewer fibers, making them easier to peel, cut, and cook. The fewer the root tendrils at the bottom, the better; you want one as close to smooth as possible. Don't purchase any plants that appear to be rotting, or that are soft in places. You want firm, even texture throughout.

If you won't be cooking your celery root immediately, you can store it in the refrigerator, unwashed, in plastic. The root will keep for over a week if refrigerated. Peel just before serving, and be sure to wash thoroughly, as with any root vegetable. Be sure to save the stalks and leaves on your celery root, as well — they're perfectly safe to eat.

When it comes time to make the mashed potatoes, take celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse's advice for extracting more of that signature celery flavor. He recommends steeping some sliced raw celery in milk for 15 to 20 minutes while the veggies cook; you can then use the steeped milk when making your mashed potatoes for an extra hit of celery flavor in the finished product.