Cooking and eating are no different than anything else, they tend to follow trends. A popular trend that has stayed around is foods with real flavor. Some people would describe it as spicy food, and sometimes it is, but not always. To me, foods with real flavor go beyond salt and pepper. Remember, we eat first with our eyes, then our nose, and then the taste buds.
One of my favorite ingredients, and one that I can’t prepare a lot of recipes without, adds an awakening to many foods: horseradish. For centuries, horseradish was used only as a medicine. I guess to open the sinuses and I am not sure what else. Then, in the middle ages, taste buds got a “root” awakening when the Danes and Germans ground the root of this pungent perennial to add zip to fish and meat.
Horseradish, which is in the mustard family, is most often grown from root cuttings. It spreads easily and can take over an area. It is difficult to get rid of since every piece of root will produce a plant. If you want to grow some, try to find an isolated spot because if you don’t it will take over.
The sharp taste of horseradish can enliven a variety of foods. I like to add it to deviled eggs, vegetable dip, tuna and/or chicken salad, chili, bean dishes (especially black beans), coleslaw, potato salad, mashed potatoes, barbecue sauces, and to a variety of meats.
For a flavorful mashed potato dish, cube and cook 6 medium potatoes. Out west, they just scrub the potatoes for mashing versus peeling them, this way you get more of the vitamins, minerals, and fiber, plus you save time. Cook the potatoes in boiling, salted water until tender 6 to 10 minutes, then drain. Add 1/4 cup butter, 1/8 teaspoon pepper and mash by hand. Then add 1/2 cup plain yogurt, cream cheese or sour cream, and 2 tablespoons prepared horseradish and mix well. I have also made these without the sour cream and sometimes I have used more horseradish. Either way, they re-heat very well and work up wonderfully to make fried potato cakes.
Grinding your own horseradish can be a real adventure; everyone who helps will talk about it for some time! This process may also have some folklore to go along with it. According to some people you should only dig your horseradish in months that have an “r” in them. Some of the old timers say the best months are April and September. The experts say don’t dig during the growing season, the root is bitter then, so now could be the time to grind.
Once you have dug horseradish, you can grind your own. Begin by scrubbing and peeling the roots. A good vegetable peeler is helpful. To be on the safe side, it is a good idea to wear goggles. Yes, I said goggles. The grinding process is best if done outside. It’s probably a good idea is to take turns grinding. If you insist on doing this inside, open all the doors and windows and run fans to remove the fumes. The strong, stingy odor will probably still bring you to tears.
I think the best way to grind horseradish is with one of the hand-crank grinders and use a very fine shredder or a coarse grater. Set the end of the grinder in a shallow pan to catch the fluid. Try to work at arm’s length from the horseradish and avoid breathing the fumes.
If you own a food processor with a grinding blade, try this for making your own homemade horseradish. Use 1 cup cubed, peeled, horseradish root, cut to 1/2-inch lengths; three-fourths cup vinegar; 2 teaspoons sugar; and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Combine all the ingredients in a food processor or blender and process until pureed. Carefully remove cover of processor or blender, keeping your face away from the container. Spoon ground horseradish into clean containers, place covers on, and store in the refrigerator.
An easier way to enjoy horseradish and add zest to your cooking is to buy prepared horseradish. Store prepared horseradish in tightly covered jars in the refrigerator. It will keep in the refrigerator for several months. As horseradish ages, it will darken and lose some of its flavor but it is still safe to use.