Celeriac, aka celery root, are not attractive. They’re lumpish brown globes with the farm’s soil clinging to the hairy root at one end and, sometimes, a clump of short, leafy, and tough celery-like stalks protruding from the other. But they are delicious.
When I started importing olive oil I had to sell some to cover the costs. My friends could only buy so much, so I would walk around the farmers market passing out vegetable recipes that featured olive oil. If anyone seemed especially interested, I’d pull a bottle of oil out my backpack and try to sell it to them.
The recipes used the vegetables shoppers could find in the market, so I bought whatever was in season and looked for an appropriate recipe. I’d never eaten celery root and they looked daunting. But I bought one, took it home, and learned how to make the gnarly thing edible.
Google was a relative infant back then, but the top result from a search for ‘celery root recipes’ was always celeriac remoulade. This French bistro classic combines thinly cut celeriac, aka celery root, with an herby mayonnaise flavored with Dijon mustard. For my farmers market version, I doctored up mayo from the jar with olive oil, mustard, and parsley.
When we first went to New Orleans a few years later, I discovered another remoulade. In the American South it gets spicier and more colorful, and I adapted my version to include horseradish, Crystal hot sauce, Worcestershire, pickled peppers, and a shot of ketchup. I was making some not long ago, and when I reached for the jar of Mama Lil’s peppers, the Choi’s kimchi was right next to it. And that’s how I got to kimchi remoulade, with no apologies to Larousse.
One last note about the celeriac. While some versions of this salad call for grating it, I think the texture suffers if the pieces are too fine. It takes longer, but it’s worth it to cut the celeriac (and carrots) into matchsticks, pieces roughly ⅛ inch square and about an inch and half long. Don’t worry if they’re not perfectly uniform, it’s just a salad.
I met Chong Choi when she and her son Matt brought her kimchi to the Portland Farmers Market more than 10 years ago. Chong grew up helping her mother make kimchi in Korea. “In Korean communities,” Choi said in a Willamette Week article, “there’s usually a person who makes really good kimchi who supplies everybody. My mom was that person.”
I took a class from them so I could make it myself, but I like Choi’s better. The Portland food community was stunned when Matt was killed in 2020, and I think of his smile every time I open the jar.