It’s not often that a two-bit character actor is cast in a leading role. It’s rare for a back-up singer to move center stage, and win a Grammy. It’s unusual for a second-string quarterback to somehow lead the league in touchdown passes. And it’s surprising that a plain Jane vegetable, which is usually part of a basic trio (think: saute onion, garlic and celery…), becomes the focus of an entire, decadent meal. But this is a celery Cinderella story, and we’re here to tell it.
Celery. Sure you can make a comforting cream of celery soup, or a crunchy celery based salad, but in this recipe, celery is treated to slow cooking care, elevating it to something grand. Here, celery, pork, and avgolemono (an egg-lemon sauce, the same one used in avgolemono soup) combine to create a dish with strong flavours and delicate textures. As children, one of us loved this seasonal meal, which was often prepared in the late summer and early fall, a time when celery is at its peak. The other one of us hated it almost as much as she hated spanakorizo. In fact, when we were planning this post, the hater amongst us vowed that she wouldn’t try it, not a single bite! But, how can you write about something you can’t describe? And so, a taste was taken…and then another, and another. Clearly, people change and tastes evolve. The new verdict…this meal is fantastic!
In this version of pork and celery with egg lemon sauce, our parents use pork tenderloin. This is a delicious way to keep the meal on the leaner side. Otherwise, and perhaps more traditionally, pork loin or shoulder or pork butt are used. This will make the meal richer, and fattier. All these variations are delicious, but we are happy to keep things lean whenever possible, especially when we don’t sacrifice flavour. If you are skeptical about using the tenderloin in this recipe, don’t be. It’s really quite great.
Although you can alter the cut of pork used, you cannot alter the vegetable. Celery is the star here, and cannot be replaced by anything else, and there is A LOT of celery! The celery cooks for a very long time, transforming it from it’s raw crunchy self to something very different, both in flavour and texture. Our parents make this dish with celery from their garden, which means that they have both the stalk and the large, healthy leaves available. You can usually find celery with leaves still attached at a farmers market, but they tend to be quite seasonal. In some places…that season is now, so hurry up before it’s too late!
Our parents grow quite a bit of celery, too much to use in one meal. If you are faced with a lot of celery too, you can save it for the future by freezing it. Simply prepare your celery as described in the recipe. After it has blanched (been in the boiling water for a few minutes) you can drain it and freeze it. Of course, this celery will not be very good served with dip and chicken wings, but it is perfect for meals where it is cooked, like this one.
You will see that the directions below instruct you to remove some of the broth, set it aside to cool a little bit, and then add it slowly to the beaten eggs and lemon used in the avgolemono. This is a critical step because if you add the beaten eggs directly into the very hot broth you risk having your eggs curdle.
Also important for the avgolemono is to use beautiful, fresh lemons. Try not to substitute bottled lemon juice; it may be more convenient, and at times, less expensive, but nothing beats the taste of pure, freshly squeezed lemon juice.
Prepared properly, this dish will resemble a stew; there will be plenty of amazing liquid in the pot. You know what that means! Serve this meal with a nice loaf of crusty bread, perfect for dunking and wiping your plate clean.
Mia Kouppa: Celery and pork stew
- 20 large stalks of celery, with leaves
- 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
- 3/4 cup (175 ml) olive oil
- 1 3/4 (425 ml) cups tomato sauce
- 1/2 cup (125 ml) chopped flat leaf parsley
- 1/2 cup (125 ml) chopped mint
- 6 cups (1500 ml) water
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) salt
- 1 teaspoon (4 ml) pepper
- 2 medium sized pork tenderloin
- 1 teaspoon (4 ml) salt
- vegetable oil for frying
- 3 large eggs
- 1/2 cup (125 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Wash your celery well and separate the leaves from the stalks. Chop the stalks into 1 inch long pieces. Chop up the leaves, also in about 1 inch long pieces.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. When the water is boiling, add the celery stalks and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes. Then, add the celery leaves to the pot and cook for an additional 2 minutes. Drain and cool under cold water. Set aside to drain again.
- In another large pot add the olive oil and chopped onion. Cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes until the onion is softened. Add the celery to the pot (do so carefully as any water which remains on the celery can cause the hot oil to spatter). Mix well.
- To the pot add the tomato sauce, the chopped parsley and mint, water, salt and pepper. There should be enough liquid to come right to the surface of the vegetables. If there is not enough to get to this point, add more water. Mix well.
- Cook the vegetables, over medium high heat, with the pot covered, for approximately 1 hour 10 minutes. Stir occasionally, and check to make sure there is still plenty of liquid in the pot.
- Meanwhile, slice the pork tenderloin into 1 inch thick slices. Sprinkle all sides with salt.
- Heat vegetable oil in a frying pan (enough oil so that it comes up about 2 – 3 centimeters in the pan). Fry the pork tenderloin until it is just brown on all sides (approximately 3 – 4 minutes, per side).
- Add the pork tenderloin pieces to the pot with the celery. Add it to the top and press down on the meat a little bit so that it is submerged in the cooking liquid. Cook for approximately 5 minutes. Check the pork for doneness by cutting into a piece.
- Remove from heat, and take about 1 cup of broth out of the pot and set it aside.
- Prepare the egg-lemon sauce. Separate the eggs, and using an electric hand held mixer (or a stand mixer), beat the egg whites until just frothy. Add the yolks and continue to beat. Slowly pour in the lemon juice, while continuing to beat the eggs. Then, take the broth you set aside (it should still be warm, just not piping hot) and slowly pour it into the egg-lemon mixture, while continuing to beat it. This slow incorporation of the hot liquid to the eggs, while they are being beaten, will prevent curdling.
- Pour the egg-lemon mixture back into the pot with the celery and pork. Shake the pot so that the avgolemono gets evenly distributed throughout. Enjoy.