Taste it, Don't Waste it! Celery Leaves

Adobe Stock / Patrick Hermans

Celery is a fundamental aromatic in many dishes. Its slightly bitter, astringent flavor is most frequently combined with the sweetness of onions and carrots to form the holy trio in mirepoix - the combination of the three diced vegetables that is the start of many dishes in the western culinary canon. Loved as it is, home cooks often reach for just the stalks of the celery plant, leaving the lovely leaves behind along with the intense flavor and character that these parts of the plant can bring to a dish.  

Supermarket celery is often sold without its leaves in bundles of celery "hearts." A lot of our produce is marketed this way, denuded of any frond or frill as if those plant parts were keeping us from the prize - the meaty center of the thing. It's a sales trick that very effectively convinces shoppers that we are getting the best. Actually, we are paying to be blinded to the most significant indicator of freshness in produce: its leaves and its outermost layers.

In Europe, particularly in the UK and France, celery leaves are not only valued, they are treasured so much that varieties are grown specifically for their leaves, just as you would other tender herbs such as parsley and cilantro. "Cutting celery" or celery "leaf plants" as they are called, are more popular in these parts of Europe.

Even if in the US we raise our celery with the stalks in mind, the leaves of any variety are a treat. Celery is so ubiquitous that you might not think of it as a seasonal vegetable but you will do well to seek it out at the farmers' market during the cooler growing seasons. You will find that the bunches of celery sold there have more leaves that are sturdier than those found in the supermarket. 

Which Celery Leaves to Use

You can divide your celery leaves into two camps. The dark green outer leaves are intensely flavored - much more so than the stalk. They can be a bit tough and fibrous though. Use them in applications where texture won't interfere with their enjoyment - cooked until tender in soups and stews or pulverized in sauces or purees.

The inner, light green to chartreuse leaves are much more tender and delicate. They still pack more celery punch than the stalks - you'll be surprised at just how much flavor they have. But their texture is fine enough to eat raw. They are great in salads or used as a garnish. Chop them right along with the stalks for any recipe that calls for celery but be mindful of their stronger flavor so you don't overwhelm your dish.  

Storing Celery Leaves

Celery leaves can be stored off the stalk. Something to keep in mind when you don't want to use the whole plant in the same recipe. Just toss them in an airtight container with a damp paper towel and stash them in your crisper where they will keep for several days. Alternatively, you can freeze celery leaves by pureeing them with a bit of water or oil and freezing the resulting liquid in an ice cube tray. Transfer the leaf cubes to an airtight container and add them to soups, stocks, stews or sauces whenever you want a boost of celery flavor.

Uses for Celery Leaves

Here are a few ways to enjoy celery leaves:

Use Celery Leaves Instead of Parsley

Think of the dark green celery leaves as an herb and use them as a substitute for flat leaf parsley. Just be sure to mince them finely, as you would parsley, to break down their fibrous texture. Try them as a substitute in parsley-centric recipes such as tabbouleh.

Dry Celery Leaves

Dry your leaves in a low oven or dehydrator. Pulverize and blend with salt for a handy seasoning. Or add the dried, crumbled leaves directly to recipes for an aromatic boost.

Celery Leaf Salad

You can add celery leaves to a salad where their bitter edge can be a welcome way to cut through other luscious and fatty ingredients such as cheese, nuts or soft-boiled eggs, as in the recipe below.

Celery Leaves and Beans

Celery and gigante bean salad is a dish fit for a prince that can be made with a pauper's budget. Toss tender, meaty beans with the pale green, inner celery leaves and perhaps a diced stalk or two. Dress them simply with a few lashings of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon.

Celery Leaf Shake

Celery leaves pack a lot of nutritional punch. Whir them into a green drink to start your day off right.

Celery Soup

Celery leaves bring a distinctive flavor to pureed soup. Think of it as vichyssoise v. 2.0.

Celery Leaf Eggs

Celery and eggs are a surprisingly good combination and a beat apart from your usual omelet combo.

Celery Risotto

Full flavored, in-season celery - leaves and all - takes center stage in this hearty dish.

Celery Leaf Stock

Celery leaves are a welcome addition to any stock. But consider making a stock exclusively of celery leaves and using it to add a tinge of flavor to the blank slate of your next batch of white rice.

Braised Celery Leaves

Celery leaves become tender during a low, slow braise and share their aromatic flavor with the whole dish.

Celery Leaf Pesto

The end of summer doesn't have to mean the end of pesto. Substitute basil with celery leaves for a cool weather take on this herbaceous classic.

Pickled Celery Leaves

Pickled celery adds a bright, acidic companion on a cheese or charcuterie plate.

Celery Soda

New Yorkers know the refreshing weirdo that is celery soda. A syrup made from both the stalks and the leaves is an intriguing base for a cocktail or spritzer in or out of the five boroughs.

Recipe: Celery Leaf Salad

Serves 4

Use a combination of tender inner celery leaves and a few dark green outer leaves to provide the widest variety of texture and flavor. The bitterness of the celery is just right with the richly flavored additions to the salad.

Ingredients:

4 eggs
2 ounces of walnut halves or pieces
1 tablespoon sherry or red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons neutral flavored oil, such as organic canola
1 cup celery leaves, a combination of light and dark leaves
3 cups tender lettuce, any variety
2 stalks of celery, diced
4 ounces blue cheese

Method:

  1. Place eggs in a small saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cover, remove from the boil and set aside for six minutes.
  2. Remove the eggs from the hot water and plunge into an ice bath.
  3. When cool enough to handle, peel the eggs and set aside.
  4. In a small pan, toast the walnut halves over medium-low heat until fragrant and set aside.
  5. In a small bowl, whisk the vinegar, mustard and a pinch of salt and pepper.
  6. Slowly drizzle in the oil until combined and set dressing aside.
  7. Toss the celery leaves and lettuce with dressing, to taste, and divide between four plates.
  8. Slice the eggs in half and arrange two halves on each bed of dressed salad.
  9. Divide the chopped celery, toasted walnuts and blue cheese between each salad and serve.