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    Celery: Not just for veggie trays

Celery often is relegated to veggie trays where its built-in scoop makes it ideal for dipping. It's also used to add extra crunch to holiday stuffing, or tuna or chicken salad. But celery offers far more.

Low in calories, rich in nutrients

Celery is a nutrient-rich, low-calorie food. Two stalks of celery contain only 15 calories. Aside from its low calorie count, celery contains dietary fiber, vitamin K, and small amounts of vitamins A and C, calcium and iron. Although celery also contains some natural sodium, it’s still considered a low-sodium food. Celery also has antioxidant properties, which may help reduce the risk of some chronic conditions. Made up of almost 95% water, celery is a great snack to have on hand during warm summer months to help maintain hydration.

Pick of the crop

Choose celery with crisp, firm and bright stalks in tightly formed bunches. If the leaves are attached, they should be fresh and green. Avoid celery that is soft, dry, yellowing or has brown patches. Refrigerate celery in a plastic bag for a week or more. Trim the base, and wash the stalks only when you’re ready to use them. You may want to peel or pull away any tough outer strings on the celery before cooking it or eating it raw.

Don’t confuse celery with celeriac, which is the root variety of celery. Celeriac can be prepared and enjoyed like other root vegetables, such as potatoes and parsnips.

Delicious in dishes and snacks

Celery is an essential ingredient in cuisines from around the world. For example, mirepoix — pronounced meer-PWAH — is an aromatic base of carrots, celery and onions, which is a staple in French soups and stews. Celery also is one of the holy trinity of vegetables, along with peppers and onions, found in traditional Cajun dishes, such as gumbo and jambalaya.

Celery can enhance flavors and add texture to dishes, such as salads, soups and stews. Celery pairs perfectly with dips or hummus for an easy snack. Stuff the channels in celery sticks with peanut or other nut butters and dot with raisins. Or fill the channels with a combination of softened cream cheese, chopped walnuts, dried apricots and dates.

Try celery as a side dish or in a summery main dish with these recipes:

Braised Celery with Herbs

By Produce for Better Health Foundation

Serves 6

4 1/2 cups celery, sliced (about 1 small bunch)
2 1/2 cups reduced-sodium canned chicken broth
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
2 teaspoons dried thyme, crushed
1 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon butter
2 teaspoons chopped herbs, such as parsley or chives, for garnish

Cut celery stalks into diagonal slices about 1/4-inch wide. In large saucepan, bring chicken broth to a rolling boil over high heat, adding chopped onion with herbs and seasonings. Add sliced celery and reduce broth to a simmer. Cook for 4–5 minutes or until just tender; celery should remain slightly crisp. Drain immediately and place in a serving bowl. Toss with butter and additional herbs. Serve hot.

Nutrition for 1 serving: 33 calories, 1 gram total fat, 1 milligram cholesterol, 401 milligrams sodium, 6 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 2 grams protein.

Shrimp Salad-Stuffed Tomatoes

By Mayo Clinic staff

Serves 4

1 tablespoon water
48 extra-small frozen shrimp, thawed (about 1 cup)
2 tablespoons chopped red onion
2 medium apples, cored and cubed
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup diced celery
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 teaspoon dried dill
4 teaspoons horseradish
1/2 cup fat-free mayonnaise
Ground black pepper, to taste
4 tomatoes, cored

In a nonstick frying pan, heat the water over medium heat. Add the shrimp and onion and sauté until the shrimp is opaque and the onions are translucent, 5–7 minutes. Transfer to a bowl, cover and refrigerate until well-chilled.

In a small bowl, combine the apples and lemon juice. Toss to coat evenly and set aside. In a large bowl, combine the celery, parsley, dill, horseradish and mayonnaise. Season with black pepper to taste. Stir in the shrimp mixture and the apples. Refrigerate until well-chilled, 45–60 minutes. Just before serving, stuff the shrimp salad into the cored tomatoes. Serve immediately with a whole-grain roll or bagel or low-fat, whole-grain crackers.

Nutrition per 1 stuffed tomato: 201 calories, 1 gram total fat, 346 milligrams sodium, 35  grams carbohydrates, 6 milligrams fiber, 13 grams protein.

Allie Wergin is a dietitian in Nutrition in New Prague, Minnesota.