First, the bad.  My hometown was ravaged by horrible flooding in the last two days.  Just torn apart.  A torrent of rain developed overhead and wouldn’t budge until it had dumped 7 inches, 9 inches, 10 inches of water in some places.  The wall of water rushed down the hill toward the lake taking out huge chunks of roads and sidewalks, dumpsters and bridges with it.

Perhaps you even saw it on the news yesterday.  I know the story about the seal that was swept out of the zoo by a river of water and was found stranded on the highway received a lot of attention.  Many of the other zoo animals – the little barnyard animals in the petting zoo – drowned.  I spent half the day in unremitting tears about this.  Unfair is not nearly a strong enough word.

It’s horrifying to be reminded how powerless we are. It’s  also probably really important to be reminded.  These extremes may be the new normal, and it’s time to be truthful about the fact that we are not remotely in control.  And perhaps the best we can do sometimes is bond together, lend a never ending supply of helping hands, and cope.

All my family and friends there are fine, though.  Thank heaven for that.

It’s awkward to feel far away and disconnected from it.  Though, I would probably feel awkward were I there as well.  Because in these situations, though things may be far from normal, many elements of normalcy insist on persisting.  The sun rises and sets, and you have to tend to the day.

My mother reminded me yesterday that often the best thing you can do when you feel completely powerless is to keep working on the little things where you can make a difference.  So, I returned to my research (which hopefully someday will help someone!) and to helping my brother edit an application essay.  I walked the puppy.  I smiled and talked with the neighborhood children out playing in their sprinklers.  I prepared healthy meals for us to eat.

Which brings me to the good, as small as it may seem in comparison.  It’s another salad, and this time it’s a light and refreshing one.  It’s gotten so hot here that this is about all it takes to sate your appetite.  And, I’m so smitten with this particular one, I’ve been making a half recipe and eating it on its own as my lunch for several days running.  It’s a tune so catchy, I just put it on repeat and sit back to listen contentedly.

Celery keeps surprising me.  Most of the time it doesn’t even make a blip on my radar screen when I’m thinking about vegetables.  Since I can’t eat peanut butter, in my mind celery gets shuttled into either the category of ‘component of mirepoix’ or else ‘food for cranky models and chain smoking ballerinas.’

But, celery actually has a lovely and unique flavor of its own, in addition to its addictive juicy crunch (with the annoying strings here and there to keep things real).  It is lightly saline, herbal, and citric.  And it has a nice amount of steminess – it’s a stem, after all – just ever so slightly reminiscent of a very minerally white wine.

Every now and again something comes along, something enticing, maybe zingy, to remind me that celery deserves to be remembered as a vegetable, and used as such.   This salad reminded me like a big sticky note on the bathroom mirror scrawled with the message.  Celery is a vegetable!  It said. An awesome one!

I saw this salad on Food52 even before it was selected as a finalist for one of their contests, and the moment I noticed it, in spite of all of its unusualness, I somehow knew it was special.  I knew I would adore it.

I almost always adore things that have sauteed mushrooms in them.  But, combined with the delicate, feathery crunch of the thinly sliced celery, the loamy meatiness of the mushrooms somehow become something even more.  Meanwhile, the brilliant lemon juice and the thin shards of Parmesan threaded throughout the salad create a palate defying unity between the extremely disparate textures and flavors of the mushrooms and celery.

I suppose some may still think they don’t work well together.  To them I say, you are entitled to your opinion, but I respectfully and vehemently disagree (vehemently, I tell you!).  These two are that unlikely match made in heaven, the stars of every romantic comedy you’ve ever seen.  Except, more graceful and elegant than most rom-coms.  It’s purportedly an Italian-style salad; clearly it is going to be elegant.

It is a satisfyingly simple and elegant process to assemble it as well.  The mushrooms sautee quickly in olive oil and get set aside to cool.  Then all it takes is swift slicing of the celery, grating of the cheese, a squeeze of lemon juice and a smattering of parsley leaves to pull it all together.  It is perfect for these hot summer days.  Perfect for leaving time for chatting with the neighbor children, maybe running through the sprinkler with them, checking in with friends, being grateful for the little things you do have and the tiny ways you can make a difference.

Italian Mushroom and Celery Salad (serves about 4) barely adapted from Food52

  • 6 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil, divided
  • 1 pound mushrooms, any variety, wiped clean as sliced as thin as possible
  • juice of one lemon
  • 8 ribs celery, very thinly sliced
  • 1 cup, loosely packed, finely shredded Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • a scant 1/4 cup chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley
  1. In a very large saute pan, heat 3 Tbs. of olive oil over medium-high heat until shimmering.  Add the mushrooms, sprinkle with a bit of salt, then saute, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms have released their juices, the juices have evaporated, and the mushrooms are tender, about 7 minutes.  Transfer the mushrooms to a bowl to cool.
  2. Whisk together the lemon juice and remaining olive oil with a pinch each of salt and black pepper.  In a large bowl, toss the mushrooms, celery, cheese, parsley, and dressing together.  Taste and adjust salt and pepper if necessary.
  3. Serve!
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23 Responses to Italian mushroom and celery salad

  1. mamacormier says:

    So simple and yet it sounds absolutely delicious. I love mushrooms and Parmesan. Can’t wait to try it.

  2. I am so sorry. Many of us are noticing and deeply saddened by the new normal. Your mother is so right. Focusing on the small (but really, big) ways we can have an impact is a good thing. Delicious salad!;
    Eleanor

  3. Rosanna says:

    I’m sorry for what happened to your town – for the people, animals and properties. I live in the Philippines and two years ago our city received a month’s rainfall in six hours and most of the metropolitan area was devastated by flood waters. Many people and animals died too. Your mother gave stellar advise which we all should remember. Love the recipe too!

  4. trangquynh says:

    I’m so sorry to hear the information about the flooding, but because of it we know that we should enjoy every single moment in our life and don’t waste any simple thing :) btw, your salad looks delicious, keep on writing and living with your passion ^^

  5. What an affecting post. We here in UK have had our share of scary weather lately, and you are so right that we need to recognise that there are some things we can’t control. But, if there is any silver lining to catastrophic weather events, it’s that it does serve to bind people at a time when we all feel so far apart in our own little bubbles. It is lovely to notice the children in the sprinkles, to share food with friends and neighbours who need it, and just appreciate what we have and how blessed most of us are. And a lovely salad with with the vastly under-rated celery doesn’t do any harm either. Gorgeous bowl too.

    • Emily (Kuross) Vikre says:

      Thank you Kellie. I think you are absolutely right as well. There truly are so many little things to appreciate.

  6. [...] Italian mushroom and celery salad @ Five and Spice [...]

  7. I am so sorry to hear about the floods. It is so sad about the zoo animals!

    Lovely rececipe!

  8. Alaina says:

    Your photos are lovely. And your food sounds delicious. I am very glad that I stumbled upon this site. My thoughts are with you.

  9. gkm2011 says:

    I agree that celery is a vegetable that I didn’t think much about before I moved to China. The stringiness gets to me – but here in Shanghai they have a variety of spicy celery that is a standard part of certain side dishes that if you put an egg in the mix turns into a main course. It has become addictive.

    My thoughts go to those in your hometown.

    • Emily (Kuross) Vikre says:

      Thank you. And that spicy celery sounds fascinating! I’m definitely going to have to look into that a bit more.

  10. tanyamhudson says:

    So sorry to hear about the flooding in your town. But I do love that you were able to share such a beautiful recipe with us in the midst of that.

  11. I am so sorry about this–we live in Minneapolis and the whole thing was shocking. I am so glad that your friends and family are okay–and this salad looks lovely–thank you for sharing the recipe, photos and your thoughts!

    • Emily (Kuross) Vikre says:

      It was pretty shocking. But, at least repairs are underway now. Thank you for your thoughts and sympathy!

  12. Meagan Cattabriga says:

    If you have become accustomed to thinking about celery as a crunchy, low-cal vegetable but not a key part of your health support, it is time to think again. Recent research has greatly bolstered our knowledge about celery’s anti-inflammatory health benefits, including its protection against inflammation in the digestive tract itself. Some of the unique non-starch polysaccharides in celery—including apiuman—appear especially important in producing these anti-inflammatory benefits. ;

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