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.
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.
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.
Next, slice it into 1/4-inch slices, stack those slices, and cut them again into 1/4-inch matchsticks.
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.
Same with the celery (which is thankfully much easier to cut into matchsticks).
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.
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.
Once the sausage is out, the celery root goes in (as this takes the longest to soften).
Next, add the garlic, celery, and fennel and stir-fry.
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.
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.