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posted: 1/14/2014 6:00 AM

Start with celery for a healthy, crunchy salad

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  • Humble celery stars in this crunchy salad. Add a lemon vinaigrette, thin ribbons of real Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and the add-ins of your choice to tailor the dish to your taste.

      Humble celery stars in this crunchy salad. Add a lemon vinaigrette, thin ribbons of real Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and the add-ins of your choice to tailor the dish to your taste.
    Associated Press

 
By Elizabeth Karmel, Associated Press

I know this will make me sound like some ultraserious dieter -- which I'm not! -- but I love raw celery.

The humble celery stalk shines in so many ways, from a bloody mary to a snack stuffed with peanut butter or pimento cheese. To me, it's the cracker of the vegetable world. It's what I reach for when I want a snack or a salad that is pure and simple and uncomplicated. Conveniently, it also happens to be high in fiber and low in calories.

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There is an urban legend that it has zero calories -- meaning that it takes more calories to digest than it contains. That is not true, but it always makes me feel better when I am on a diet. And I bet celery sales spike in January, when everyone is attempting a healthy makeover of their diet.

Sadly, raw celery often is relegated to the crudite platter that hardly gets touched when there are more crave-worthy (and fattening) dishes to choose from. But it doesn't have to be that way! This January, eat your celery in my favorite have-it-your-way celery salad.

This crunchy salad is seriously satisfying and elevates celery to gourmet status. The secret is in slicing the celery paper thin with a mandolin, or the slicing blade of a food processor. A tart lemon vinaigrette and thin ribbons of real Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese enhance the dish.

The combination of cool crunchy slices of celery and thin bits of savory cheese is what makes this simple salad so satisfying. It also is a great foundation for add-ins, one of the reasons that I make it all the time. Depending on my mood or what I find at the market, I fancy it up with mushrooms, fennel, apples, pears, beets -- all thinly sliced -- and/or walnuts, even pomegranate seeds. Try any ingredients that suit your fancy. Just keep the two main ingredients -- celery and Parmesan cheese -- the same.

Elizabeth Karmel is a grilling and Southern foods expert and executive chef at Hill Country Barbecue Market restaurants in New York and Washington, as well as Hill Country Chicken in New York. She is the author of three cookbooks, including "Soaked, Slathered and Seasoned."

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