Cream of Celery Soup

It was raining and blowing last night, with a chill in the air. Zachary was baking bread, which smelled wonderful, and I was contemplating what to make for supper. It was definitely soup weather! Looking in the fridge I realized I had plenty of celery so I decided to make a tried and true family favorite. After some recipe fails last week it was nice to have a recipe success!

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I don’t know about you but when I think about celery I think of eating it raw, perhaps with a dip or spread, or as an ingredient along with many others in a soup or casserole. It also works as the main ingredient in a creamy soup, perfect for these chilly evenings that feel like fall.

Celery is a member of the carrot family (Apiaceae) and you can see its resemblance to flat-leaf parsley, if not visually to carrots. Sometimes it’s grown for its bulb, known as celery root or celeriac, but in the United States it’s mostly grown for its stalks. In the grocery stores the celery you see tends to be very pale as a result of blanching, or covering the stalks to stop photosynthesis. This also makes the stems more tender and keeps the flavor mild. The celery you will find at market will likely be a nice green, both from lack of blanching and also from more nutrient-rich soil. It will be a stronger flavor raw, but that can be an asset in soup, where cooking already mellows the flavor.  

The celery you find at market may also be a variety with thinner stalks and more leaves, known as Chinese, leaf, or herb celery, among other names. I found this to work well in soup, too, though I had to add the leaves to have enough celery. That’s not a problem when it’s all blended up anyway.

I often do not use a recipe when cooking, and especially when making soup. I got out the cookbook for this one, though, so I could share the recipe and what I did with it. Like most soups, though, it’s  flexible, and you can adapt it to both taste and availability of ingredients. It takes a full bunch of celery to make the recipe as written but you can make do with less and add some more potato, though as you might expect there will be less celery flavor.

This recipe is adapted from Mollie Katzen’s first cookbook, The Moosewood Cookbook. Originally published in 1977, we own the 1992 edition, from the heyday of low-fat diets. In this edition Katzen removed some of the deep-fried recipes and reduced eggs, butter, and cheese in the rest. She went a little overboard removing the fat so I usually add some back and did in this case. One last change I made from the original recipe is to eliminate the celery seed and white pepper called for. The taste of each are a bit harsh and, besides, the celery and onion have plenty of flavor on their own. If you want, add up to a teaspoon of celery seed and white pepper to taste. Katzen often also left out or reduced salt in the interest of health but the salt in this recipe is just right.

The recipe as written calls for three pots to be used cooking this soup. I don’t know about you but I don’t want to wash more pots than I have to! Two of those are for first boiling the potatoes and celery and then the second for holding the finished soup, so the first saucepan is an easy one to eliminate. Simply cook the potatoes and celery in the pot the finished soup will go in. The third pan is for sautéing the onions and celery that are not blended to add to the texture and flavor. If you would prefer a completely smooth soup just use one large pot, and start by sautéing the onions and some of the celery. Then add the water, potatoes, and remaining celery and cook until soft. Purée and add the remaining ingredients. For puréeing soups I highly recommend an immersion blender so you can blend right in the pot.

Cream of Celery Soup

Adapted from Light Cream of Celery Soup from
The Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen

2 average person’s fist-sized potatoes, peeled and diced
4 cups chopped celery (1-inch chunks) (plus more celery a few ingredients from now)
3 cups water
1 ¼ tsp salt (plus more later)
2 to 4 Tbs butter
1 cup finely minced onion
1 cup very finely minced celery (preferably innermost stalks)
1 cup milk
4 to 5 Tbs sour cream, half and half, or heavy cream
Minced chives, parsley, or other green garnish
Additional sour cream as desired

  1. Place potatoes, 4 cups of celery, water, and 1 ¼ tsp salt in a large saucepan or small Dutch oven. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and slowly simmer, covered, for about 15 minutes, until everything is soft. Purée the vegetables, adding a small amount of water or the milk as needed.
  2. While the vegetables simmer melt butter in a small skillet. Add onion, finely minced celery, and ½ tsp salt. Sauté until the vegetables are tender, then add to the purée.
  3. Stir in remaining milk and cream. Heat gently as needed, then serve with garnishes and additional sour cream. 
Photo by  Zachary Cross

Photo by Zachary Cross

Heather Cross