I was introduced to cepa de apio for the very first time a few years back. I had been looking out for it since I first heard of its existence, when a friend told me it was an extremely rich source of calcium as well as one of the better-tasting tubers, or as Dominicans call them, viveres. I then saw it mentioned on the DR1.com forums, where crema de cepa de apio – “celery root puree” or “cream of celery root” was described as a typical delicacy of Constanza, a scenic highland region in the centre of the Dominican Republic, famous for its cool climate and as a fruit and vegetable growing area.
Time for some facts. Although the Dominican name cepa de apio (which I found out after exhaustive research on the internet is also used in Venezuela and Puerto Rico) translates literally as “celery root” this is not the same as the actual root of the celery plant known in English as “celeriac”, although the two plants are closely related. To give it its full name, cepa de apio criollo (creole celery root) is a tuber. Cepa de apio is said to have several excellent nutritional and medicinal qualities as well as a high calcium content (four times as much as potato). It is supposed to be beneficial to high blood pressure sufferers, for example.
The scientific name is Arracacia xanthorrhiza Bancroft. In English it is variously known as “Peruvian parsnip” or “Peruvian carrot”, because it is most common in the Andean region. Its indigenous Andean name is arracacha or arracha, and was traditionally cultivated by the Incas for both human and animal consumption. These days it is being rediscovered in the Andes as a useful crop because of its durability and nutritional value. In Brazil especially it is used as a baby food. As far as taste and appearance goes, it could be described as a gentle combination of carrot, celeriac and root parsley, or as Aunt Clara put it – “somewhere between potato and pumpkin” in flavour as well as colour.
I have to say that the moment I tasted the soup I was an instant convert to cepa de apio. It is both delicate and tasty, aromatic and delicious. It reminded me of tender, juicy and tasty English parsnips at their best. I have not been such a fan of boiled and mashed víveres like the more common yuca and yautiauntil now, but this ingredient is certain to become a regular item on my shopping list. It cost just under RD$10 per lb, and I bought it at the Super Pola supermarket in the
Multicentro de la Churchill (La Sirena) in Santo Domingo. I found it easy to prepare – you have to peel and chop the root, and it cooks very quickly, more or less like pumpkin.
I am looking forward to trying out other cepa de apio recipes, because as well as in this creamy soup, cepa de apio can be eaten boiled or as an ingredient in stews, as a puree, or roasted and fried in slices.
This soup is traditionally served in the highland areas of the Dominican Republic, like Jarabacoa and Constanza, where especially in winter, the nights can be fresh. Sitting by an open fire wearing your winter woollies, watching the pine trees rustle in the chilly night breeze, you could be forgiven for forgetting that you are on a Caribbean island.
If a light lunch isn’t the kind of thing that appeals to you, this is still a great dish that you must absolutely try. Cepa de apio is a great vegetable, and this is a very delicious way to prepare it.
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 tsp cumin powder
- 1 bay leaf
- 3 celery stalks, chopped
- 2 small carrots, peeled and sliced
- 1 celeriac (about 2 lb [0.85 kg]), peeled and chopped
- 4 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
- 1½ quart [1.5 lt] vegetable broth
- 1½ teaspoon of salt (or more, to taste)
- ½ teaspoon of pepper (or more, to taste)
- Heat the oil in a pan over medium-low heat.
- When the oil is hot, add the chopped onion. Cook and stir until it turns transparent.
- Add cumin powder, bay leaf, celery. Cook and stir for a minute.
- Add carrots, celeriac and potatoes, lower heat to minimum and add two tablespoons of broth.
- Cover and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking or burning.
- Add the remaining vegetable stock, cover and simmer until the vegetables are cooked through.
- Cool to room temperature.
- Once cool, blend the soup, season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Reheat and serve with fennel leaves as garnish.