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Spicy Stir-Fried Fennel, Celery, and Celery Root With Chinese Sausage

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A quick and easy stir-fry with celery root, fennel, and Chinese sausage. [Photographs: Shao Z.]

For me, there's something about the taste of celery that goes really well with spicy food. I can't explain exactly what it is. Maybe it's the slight licorice taste or the faint hint of sweetness. Whatever it is, sautéing a stalk or two of celery, plus a few slices of Chinese sausage, a little bit of chili pepper, and lots of garlic, is my go-to dish when I don't know what I want to eat. It's quick to make, economical, and perfect with a bowl of rice.

This is a twist on that preparation, which combines celery with celery root, fennel, Chinese sausage, and tons of garlic. Thai-style nam prik pao—a roasted chili jam—adds heat and a savory, roasted aroma.

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It's only a few ingredients, but they come together almost magically well.

As with any stir-fry, most of the work is done before the pan even goes on the heat: cutting vegetables into uniform pieces is essential for proper cooking.

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For the celery root, start by cutting off the top and bottom, then use a knife to remove the skin. You can use a peeler, but because it's so bumpy, you'll have to make several passes. A knife winds up being more efficient.

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Next, slice it into 1/4-inch slices, stack those slices, and cut them again into 1/4-inch matchsticks.

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For the fennel, split the bulb in half, cut out the core by slicing it out in a V-shaped wedge, then go through the same process of cutting 1/4-inch slabs, then slicing them into 1/4-inch matchsticks.

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Same with the celery (which is thankfully much easier to cut into matchsticks).

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The natural sweetness and licorice flavors of fennel and celery root goes nicely with Chinese sausage, which usually has a sweet flavor. You can use standard dried Chinese sausage, but if you have access to it, Chinese wine-flavored sausage and liver sausage are my favorites. If Chinese sausage is hard to find, mild or hot sweet Italian sausage can be used in its place.

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The key is to stir-fry it in an empty skillet so that the fats will naturally render out. You can then use that fat to cook the remaining vegetables, coating them in sausage-rich flavor.

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Once the sausage is out, the celery root goes in (as this takes the longest to soften).

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Next, add the garlic, celery, and fennel and stir-fry.

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Finally, I add the crisped sausage back to the pan and stir in the nam prik pao, along with some soy sauce and a dash of Chinese wine for its acidity and aroma.

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The final dish is light, bright, and packed with complementary flavors. Perfect as a side dish, or as a meal in itself with a bowl of rice.

About the Author: I was born in Guangzhou, the birthplace of dim sum, and raised in the Chinatown neighborhood of Philadelphia. As a sibling-less child, cooking was a way to cure after school snack attacks and a way to keep myself entertain. That's how my love for food and cooking started, and it continues to grow. I blog at friedwontons4u.com and I am on twitter @friedwontons4u.

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