As a little girl, I hovered around the kitchen after school, especially when my beloved grandma, a governess and trained chef, came over to give my mom cooking lessons. Grandma Eva was one of those old school European cooks who made everything painstakingly from scratch. One afternoon she warned me to steer clear and go outside and play, as this particular lesson was going to be a teary-eyed one.
More curious than ever, I stood my ground and sat safely in a corner out of harm’s way as grandma started shredding this knarly, knobby tubular root until her knuckles practically bled. And true to her warning, her eyes welled up with tears and stung like crazy even several minutes after she finished her prep work. Decades later, horseradish has become the King of Condiments, enlivening holiday tables and everyday meals.
Here’s a primer to guide you through the horseradish world.
Root of the Root
This ancient root is a member of the mustard family (and first cousin to wasabi). It has been used for culinary, medicinal and ritual purposes since Biblical times (the original bitter herb used on the Passover Seder table to remind Jews of their enslavement under Pharaoh).
No country holds a solid claim to the origins of horseradish, although it is possibly from Asia, Germany or Mediterranean parts. Ancient Greeks and Egyptians prized sexy and soothing horseradish as a balm for backaches, a syrup to quiet coughs and an aphrodisiac to jump-start the romantic wiring.
Horseradish spread to the Scandinavian countries and England via Central Europe during the Renaissance. By the late 1600s, the Brits embraced horseradish, which became a staple condiment for beef and oysters. The snappy root was soon grown at inns and coach stations, blended in cordials and served to energize weary travelers.
The Healthy Horse
This phyto powerhouse is low in calories, sodium and fat while loaded with fiber, vitamins and minerals, including immune boosting Vitamin C (more than an orange or lemon), stress relieving B’s, magnesium, potassium, iron to pump up red blood cell production, zinc, selenium and folate.
Horseradish contains stimulants that dial up enzymes to aid digestion, anti-inflammatories that ease creaky joints and stiff muscles, and assorted antioxidant and detoxing isothiocyanates — the volatile oils that give horseradish its famous fire in the belly. It is even rubbed on the forehead to calm a throbbing headache.
• Before grating this pungent root, wash, trim and scrape thoroughly, and toss the core. Store for up to four weeks in the refrigerator.
• Horseradish is benign until crushed or grated, whereupon it releases its mighty oils. So prep or process with care — best in a blender or food processor.
• Since vinegar is a stabilizing agent, add it immediately to the grated root to calm the fires and produce a milder condiment. Store in an airtight container in the fridge.
• Preserve shredded horseradish in vinegar before using, even in cooking.
• When heated, horseradish loses its zip, so to maintain its pungent flavor, add to the dish at the end of cooking.
The New Ketchup
Horseradish is served ubiquitously in delis and burger joints as a condiment on sandwiches, gefilte fish and hamburgers. In upscale eateries, it’s an accompaniment to wild caught fish, prime rib, duck and seafood. The French call it raifort or moutarde des Allemands; it’s rafano in Italy, rabano picante in Spain and meerrettich in Germany.
You can whip up a creamy sauce with mayo, sour cream or mustard to dial up turkey burgers, bratwursts, roast veggie or chicken sandwiches, or you can spread horseradish on wild caught salmon before grilling. Add chopped roasted beets and red onions to horseradish for a savory relish. Spike up your mashed potatoes, soups, meatballs, green bean-, egg- or chicken-salads by blending in some shredded flakes. Blend horseradish with butter and garlic for a zippy bruschetta. Concoct a lively cocktail sauce with ketchup, lemon juice and fresh shredded horseradish.
Knock-your-socks-off Horseradish Vinaigrette
Drizzle this light, sweet and tangy marinade on just about anything. (Serve with a side of ice water.)
2 tablespoons fresh or prepared horseradish
2 tablespoons sherry or Champagne vinegar
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon grain or Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
Sea salt and cracked black pepper to taste
Whisk ingredients in a bowl until emulsified. Drizzle on green salads, steamed or roasted veggies, or fish, chicken, seafood both before grilling and after.
—For additional horseradish recipes, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org