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Thursday, 29 November 2012

Celeriac Sofrito

I first tasted this dish a few weeks ago when I volunteered, together with Moishe House and Brondesbury Park Synagogue at Rumi’s Kitchen, in Cricklewood Mosque. About once a month, a group of people come together and cook for the homeless. What’s wonderful about it, is that it isn’t so much about the food, but about creating a sense of community. Much love to Becky for introducing them to me. See below* for details about Rumi’s Cave.

I had never worked in an industrial-sized kitchen before, and absolutely loved it. The pot I was stirring was so big that it went over four rings on the hob, and the heat was so intense that two of us were stirring together to keep the celeriac from sticking. The original recipe was chosen by someone from the synagogue, it is an Ottolenghi dish, served with oniony meatballs. This recipe here is my adaptation.

In Jerusalem, Ottolenghi/ Tamimi explain that a sofrtio has its origins in Sephardic Jewish cooking, and refers a cooking method. Originating from the Spanish verb sofreir (to fry lightly). It involves slowly cooking meat in a pot on the stovetop with only oil and very little liquid. The result is a very tender texture and rich, comforting flavour. Turmeric, garlic and lemon are traditional flavours for this. Although traditionally associated with meat, it works incredibly well here with just veggies.

Celeriac is a pretty new ingredient for me. I have never been the biggest fan of root vegetables, but celeriac is brilliant. Every day on Masterchef Professionals someone seems to be making celeriac puree, so it can’t just be me. I have made this recipe a few times now, and I really love it. It’s sunshine-yellow and lemony, and the spices add an incredible warmth. I’ve added a few potatoes for a little variety in texture – the celeriac becomes really soft and almost creamy.

Makes enough for 4-6 as a side dish.

2 tbsp olive oil
1 celeriac, peeled and cut into approx 5cm x 1.5cm batons. I intentionally cut some a little small and some a little big, for different textures.
About 8 small waxy potatoes (I use charlottes) cut into quarters
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 tsp ground turmeric
½ tsp each cumin and coriander
1 tsp fennel seeds, lightly crushed
¾ tsp smoked paprika
1 mug-full of chicken or vegetable stock (1 cube) – you may need a little extra liquid
Juice from half a lemon – more of less depending on your preferences
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

The potatoes take a little longer to cook, so start them off cooking before you peel and chop the celeriac. Heat the oil in a large saucepan/or deep frying pan and add the potatoes, stirring quite frequently on a medium heat. Add the celeriac when it is ready, along with the turmeric, fennel seeds and other spices. Fry these all together for 5-10 minutes, until the spices start smelling fragrant and the veggies look cooked at the edges. Add the garlic and fry for another 5 minutes, stirring all the time to prevent it from burning. Then add the mug of stock, and simmer for at least 20 minutes. As there isn’t that much liquid, you will need to stir quite regularly to prevent it from sticking to the bottom (you may need to add a little more liquid, but don’t add too much).  When the potato quarters have cooked through and the smaller wedges of celeriac have started to disintegrate and thicken the sauce, season with the lemon, salt and pepper. Goes very well with thick Greek yogurt or Labneh.

8 celeriacs cooking in the giant pot at Rumi's Kitchen
Another volunteer and I stirring the giant pot. I love my apron 
my normal-sized version - slightly too orange as my hand slipped with the paprika - tasted nice though

Served with herby labneh and pomegranate seeds

*Rumi’s Cave is a community space located in the heart of Kilburn in London. It is run by charity, Ulfa Aid as a way of engaging and reaching out to the community. At Rumi’s Cave, we aim to create an environment of spirituality, creativity and learning for everyone, despite race or religion. Their mission is: Spirituality, Creativity, Education, Community, Charity.


  1. This is my new comfort food. I absolutely love the taste, cooking it is fun, and I experiment with different spices (am particularly a fan of garam masala). Have made this now 4 times and am about to head out to buy another celeriac to do it again. Thanks!

  2. Made this for dinner last night and added a teaspoon of mustard seeds, and 3 quartered, defrosted artichoke bottoms - a really delicious addition.