Chinese Celery

The Stuff of Heroes’ Wreaths
Fragrant Swizzle Sticks

“A leafier, skinnier-stalked version of the familiar green head” — Mark Bittman

 

Chinese  Celery

Chinese Celery Plant

When you cook with Chinese Celery, you’re using he plant that ancient Greeks and Romans used to weave their heroes’ garlands. [1]

The Vegetable Itself: As the picture shows, Chinese Celery looks similar to Western Celery, but is smaller, with bright green leaves.  As Mark Bittman says, it is a “leafier, slimmer-stalked version of the familiar green.”

The stems of Chinese Celery range from white to light green to darker green and the leaves are jagged. The stems are often hollow when cut crosswise.  The flavor is fragrant and stronger than Western Celery.

Traveler on the Silk Road: Chinese Celery is a plant native to the Eurasian land mass and was a wild herb used for its medical properties. It’s grown and eaten today in a vast area — from the Mediterranean World, through the Kurdish region of the Middle East, and on to the Far East.  So this plant was an early traveler along the Silk Road! [2]

Chinese Celery or Oriental Celery is not the same as Western Celery, although the plants are related. The Western version is a more evolved version of the ancient Old World celery, which is the wild herb used for the garlands.

The type of Chinese Celery used in Asian cooking is much closer to the original ancient variety.

Older than Oats: Celery was used as a food since very early times.  In the early Mediterranean world, Celery was used as a herb and is still used that way in many places.  It’s mentioned by writers like Homer (about 850 BCE).  But the first use of the food goes back to ancient Crete.

The name of Celery is recorded in the archaic script called Linear B, which is dated around 1375 — 1200 BCE. So Celery was used as a food even before oats (which date from about 1000 BCE). So the history of Celery is even older than the sacking of Troy (about 1200 BCE). [3]

The Chinese began to grow and cook with Celery as early as the Han Dynasty (206 BCE — 220 CE).  So this is a really ancient vegetable in world history.  It has a very modern use, however, which we’ll return to soon. [4]

Chinese Name: The Chinese name is qin or qin cai ‘Chinese celery’  And it is sometimes called tang qin, to distinguish it from the Western variety.  Chinese Celery has a special connotation in Chinese history and culture — more on this shortly.,

Nutrition: Chinese Celery is a healthy food, low in calories, high in fiber and contains several vitamins and minerals.  According to the US Department of Agriculture, a single serving (about 50 grams) has

  • 29 calories
  • Vitamin A, 709 IU
  • Vitamin A carotenoid, 71 micrograms
  • Vitamin A carotene, 71 micrograms
  • Folate 10.5 micrograms
  • Vitamin K, 74 micrograms

And it has traces of Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorous, Potassium (43 micrograms) and Selenium. [5]

Traditional Chinese Medicine considers Chinese Celery to have a cooling effect. It uses the vegetable to help control

  • high blood pressure
  • high cholesterol
  • disorders of the liver, lungs and digestive tract. [6]

In the Kitchen: Chinese Celery is rarely eaten raw, and is usually cooked or at least blanched.  It is often stir-fried, by itself, or with

  • eggs
  • lamb
  • chicken
  • pork
  • shrimp
  • bean curd or other vegetables. [7]

Chinese Celery Stirs Three Varieties

In Southeast Asia, Chinese Celery sometimes pairs with tamarind and coconut. [8] Another way is in a Thai-style Blue Crab Salad, made with Chinese celery, cilantro, garlic and dried shrimp, as perfected by Thai chef Andy Aroonrasameruang. [8a].

Fuchsia Dunlop gives some recipes for Chinese Celery in her book on Hunan style cooking. [9]

Mark Bittman has published a tasty Sichuan recipe for a salad of Chinese Celery with Pressed Bean Curd.  It is delicious and can be easily made at home. [10]

But you do need to prepare several cups of a ferocious orange, hot, aromatic seasoning oil. Some people might prefer to use a simple hot chili oil instead  — less aromatic but simpler.

Martha Stewart has published her streamlined version of Chinese Celery Salad, which is the Sichuan dish adapted for Western kitchens. [11]

Beyond the Kitchen — Modern Use: Chinese Celery has another, very modern use beyond the usual culinary ones — in the bar! Web developer and Content Management System (CMS) expert  Jennifer Chase likes Chinese Celery as a fragrant swizzle stick for Bloody Mary cocktails.  Again, you would normally blanch the vegetable first, and also cut the stems in lengths appropriate for the kind of glassware you are using. [12]

Oriental Bloody Mary: If Chinese Celery is used to make them, the cocktails are than properly known by the name of Oriental Bloody Mary.  If you have the vegetable handy in your refrigerator, you might be interested in trying this — your guests will be intrigued by its aromatic fragrance, which is very appropriate for a Bloody Mary and a great replacement for the usual Celery stick.

Substitutions: Though many people prefer Chinese Celery for its special fragrance, in a pinch Western Celery may be substituted for it in Asian recipes. And Chinese Celery can do duty for Western Celery in most Western recipes calling for Celery.

Growing It: Chinese Celery is readily available in Chinese grocery shops and markets. Outside China, it is sometimes hard to find.  If you like it a lot, the vegetable is easy to grow at home.  Good sources of seeds are the Kitazawa and Evergreen seed houses in California.  They have experience in mail order and export shipping. [13]

Cultural Note: In Imperial China, graduates who took the first degree in the Imperial civil service examinations were said to be “plucking celery.” [14]

So Chinese Celery is a nutritious, low calorie, high fiber vegetable.  It is versatile and goes well with many other foods in a range of Asian and Western dishes.  It is easy to grow at home if you enjoy it and lack a reliable source of supply.

 For further information:

[1] “Celery,” article, Wikipedia — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celery
[2] Wise Geek, What Is Chinese Celery? — http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-chinese-celery.htm
[3] David Leeming, The Desk Companion to World History, Oxford Univ. Press — http://www.amazon.com/The-Desk-Encyclopedia-World-History/dp/0739478095Neil Kagan, Concise History of he World; An Illustrated Time Line  — http://www.amazon.com/National-Geographic-Concise-History-World/dp/0792283643
[4] About.com – Chinese Celery — http://chinesefood.about.com/library/blchineseing5.htm
[5] Chinese Celery – Detailed Nutritional Analysis (USDA) Report — http://www.dlife.com/diabetes/diabetic-recipes/detailed-analysis/Chinese-Celery/r9753.html
[6] Ping Ming Health, Celery and high blood pressure –– http://www.pingminghealth.com/article/647/celery-and-high-blood-pressure/
[7] Chinese celery – Home cooking – Chowhound — http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/804686
[8] Rachel Rappaport, Tamarind Shrimp with Chinese Celery — http://www.coconutandlime.com/2009/08/tamarind-shrimp-with-chinese-celery.html
[8a] Mike Sula,  Andy’s Thai Kitchen: sweet, hot, and funky, Chicago Reader, October 24, 2012  —  http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/mike-sula-reviews-andys-thai-kitchen/Content?oid=7704117
[9] Fucshia Dunlop, Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook  — http://www.amazon.com/Revolutionary-Chinese-Cookbook-Recipes-Province/dp/0393062228
[10] Mark Bittman, Chinese Celery and Tofu Salad — http://markbittman.com/this-weeks-minimalist-chinese-celery-and-tofu
[11] Martha Steward Recipes — Chinese Celery Salad –– http://www.marthastewart.com/349639/chinese-celery-salad
[12] Jennifer Chase, Outboxco.com, Personal communications — www.outboxco.com/
[13] Kitazawa Seed Co. — http://www.kitazawaseed.com/
Evergreen Seed –
– http://www.evergreenseeds.com/
[14] R. W. Mathews, Mathews Chinese-English Dictionary, Compiled for the Chinese Inland Mission, Shanghai, 1933 — http://www.amazon.com/Chinese-English-Dictionary-Compiled-Inland-Mission/dp/0674123506
Prof. Tetsuji Morohashi, Dai Kan-Wa Jiten, 大漢和辞典, v. 5, p.265, No.12241; v. 9, p. 558, No. 30742.

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