I never quite know what to do with celery. I usually buy a bunch when I need to use a couple of stalks for a recipe, and then I am stuck with the rest of the bunch. Too often those lonely forgotten stalks have languished in my fridge, turning paler and more rubbery by the day. And too frequently have I discovered them, in the midst of a fridge cleaning frenzy, at the bottom of our produce drawer, withered to the point of inedible. A couple of weeks ago when we got a beautiful bunch of young celery in our CSA box, I was actually prepared with a recipe for Cream of Celery Soup with Sherry by Dana Jacobi. I was a bit skeptical that celery as the main ingredient could produce a flavorful soup, but the sherry really complements the celery and gives this simple soup a delicate richness.
Jacobi's recipe calls for cream (6 tablespoons), but I modified it to use cashews. This is a trick I picked up from raw cooking techniques for making smoothies, which often rely on soaked nuts to thicken fruit smoothies and give them a dairy-like consistency. Cashews, in my opinion, come closest to mimicking the creamy texture and mild sweetness of dairy. By soaking them overnight, the cashews take on enough moisture to enable them to be fully blended into the soup without leaving a gritty texture. It is a good technique for creating vegan versions of cream-based soups, or for the occasional dairy-free meal. We also substituted cilantro for parsley, as that is what we already had on-hand.
I should also mention that a critical part of getting a flavorful batch of this soup is to use the youngest, freshest and most tender celery you can find. The stalks should be on the smaller side, and bright green, without the slightest hint of yellow coloring or rubbery texture. By using tender celery, you also avoid the problem of having to worry about removing the tough outer strands of the celery stalks. We tried to recreate the recipe using grocery-store bought celery, which was more mature, but got an entirely different soup that lacked the flavor depth of our original batch.
Celery, Cashew & Sherry Soup
1/4 cup raw cashews
6-8 celery stalks (use 8 if you are working with younger and smaller stalks)
3-4 cups water
Juice of 1 lemon
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups vegetable broth
3 tablespoons cilantro
2 cloves garlic, diced
1/4 cup dry sherry
Soak the cashews overnight in water.
Wash the celery and remove any tough outer strings by peeling them back with a knife. This should not be necessary if working with young and tender celery. Chop celery into one-inch pieces and place in a pot with the water and lemon juice. Let sit for 10 minutes. Add a pinch of salt and pepper, bring everything to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Drain the liquid from the celery.
Place the celery back into the pot and add the olive oil. Cook on medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the vegetable broth, cilantro and garlic and cook for another 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and let everything cool slightly. Drain the cashews and mix them into the soup, then puree everything in a blender in small batches.
Return the soup to the pot, stir in the sherry, and simmer over low heat for 3 to 4 minutes. Serve immediately topped with croutons, if you like.
~ Esperanza http://www.integral-living.com/
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