Hello, Horseradish

As a kid, I loved dipping oyster-cracker balls into prepared horseradish, offered as a table condiment at old-school seafood restaurants.

Not until I was in my 30s did I handle the fresh stuff, a root vegetable with an ugly, hairy face and a powerfully pungent interior that sends you to the moon.

Fresh horseradish: Knobby and hairy on the outside, but pungent aromatherapy on the inside. (Kim O'Donnel)

One of the "bitter herbs" found this week on many a Passover Seder table, fresh horseradish is a root vegetable worth exploring after the holidays.

A little goes a long way from this member of the mustard family, and believe me when I say open up the windows when you get ready to peel and grate. In fact, if you're suffering from pollen allergies, a dab of grated horseradish mixed with a teaspoon of honey will rescue your ailing sinuses or sore throat.

By itself, freshly grated horseradish is too strong for most mortals, but it works as a great partner with fat or acid.

Mixed with dairy -- plain yogurt, sour cream, cream cheese -- horseradish instantly mellows yet retains its clean, fresh flavor. I love it as part of a sauce, served with seared salmon or a hunky slice of medium-rare beef.

I've also been known to whip up this sauce and use it as a dip, for crunchy stuff, like apples, jicama or celery, or potato chips, if I'm feeling daring.

Great partners in the acid department include vinegar (which is the classic mate in most jarred, prepared horseradish) and tomatoes -- remember shrimp cocktail sauce? I've been known to dab a little grated horseradish atop a raw oyster, and I love how it works with cabbage in a fish taco!

One last note: Thoroughly scrub horseradish, which often come caked in dirt, and then, with a sharp knife, peel away the hairs and rather thick exterior skin. You may grate by hand with a box grater, or using a grating disc in a food processor. Beware the fumes!

Share your favorite ways of eating horseradish, fresh or prepared, and by all means, tell us if you run for the hills when it comes to town.

Ad Hoc Horseradish Sauce

1/4 cup freshly grated horseradish
At least 1/2 cup plain yogurt or sour cream (add more to taste)
Zest of 1 lemon, chopped
1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard
Handful of fresh dill leaves, chopped
Salt to taste

Mix all ingredients together in a bowl and taste for salt. Will keep in the fridge in an airtight container for up to three days.

By Kim ODonnel |  April 2, 2007; 11:10 AM ET Spring Produce
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I like mixing horseradish with fat free LEMON yogurt, and using it as a sandwich spread.

Posted by: Wendy | April 2, 2007 12:17 PM

A good snadwich that I assemble includes wheat bread, sliced roast beef, swiss cheese, sliced tomatoes, cole slaw, dill pickle chips, and horseradish. If you assemble it properly, it won't be too sloppy and hard to handle.

Posted by: Yum | April 2, 2007 12:54 PM

Thanks for the tip about dipping apples and jicama. I loved horseradish sauce as a kid on roast beef. I'm now a vegetarian, and didn't think I'd ever get to enjoy it again.

As for the recipe - would it work without the dill? Not a fan.

Posted by: Mmmfood | April 2, 2007 1:22 PM

Locally grown horseradish grated and served as a condiment with beef fillet mignon.

Posted by: GusInLeesburg | April 2, 2007 1:27 PM

Gefilte fish! Horseradish is the classic condiment to this traditional Passover dish. My grandmother used to make gefilte fish from scratch (a dying art, if you ask any Jewish grandmother, because it's so labor intensive), and this is always what we put on top of it. Although I now realize that both horseradish and gefilte fish is definitely an acquired taste, I grew up around it, and it brings fond memories.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 2, 2007 2:21 PM

Some years back there was a news story about a woman working in her kitchen and spilling a large jar of something--requiring the summoning of the hazardous materials team. Turned out, she had been grating a large quantity of horseradish.

I would like to see a recipe for gefilte fish in the food section. I was thinking a food processor might make the process easier and more manageable.

Posted by: Dave | April 2, 2007 2:27 PM

Hey, Kim! Did you used to go to Bookbinders in Philly (the real one)? That's the only place I remember growing up that had OTC oyster crackers and horseradish at the all tables.

A Philly girl from way back.

Posted by: bethesda | April 2, 2007 2:50 PM

Mmmfood, I say if you don't like dill, leave it out. Remember it's an Ad Hoc sauce! Season it as you wish!
Bethesda, I DID go to Original Bookbinders as a kid, but also had many memorable meals at Capt'N Starn's in Atlantic City, where the oyster cracker-horseradish combo was de rigeur. Ah, the good ole days...

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | April 2, 2007 2:53 PM

Grate Fresh Horseradish together with fresh beets in equal parts or to desired potency and use either as a spread, garnish or together with Kielbasa (the more authentic the better) either from the Russian Gourmet or Ostrowski's in Baltimore.

Hint: if it's too much work, pick up the prepared horseradish/beet combination from the Russian Gourmet. Be prepared: it's super hot.

Posted by: Reston | April 2, 2007 3:38 PM

Ahh Horseradish...It always resided in our Polish family refrigerator and was a favorite of even the kids,even after my brother dared me to take an entire teaspoon full. Being the younger, tough as nails sister, I did! I recovered to love it to this day!!

Posted by: Polish Girl | April 2, 2007 4:34 PM

There's a sauce I make for New Year's Eve Dinner I got out of a cookbook that featured B&B recipes. They actually served the beef that was poached, but that never works out well. We just make beef of our choice (usually an oven-cooked steak with a generous crust of Penzey's Prime Rib Rub) and pour the sauce over.

Poach stew beef in a couple of cups of chicken broth; remove the beef after it's been cooked well, and then reduce over medium heat to a few tablespoons so it's almost syrupy (note - retain the floaty meaty bits :D).

While the broth is reducing, I plop a seriously rounded tablespoon of prepared horseradish into about a cup or so of heavy cream, to better let the flavors mix in the fridge. Then you stir the horseradish-laced cream into the meat "syrup" and warm it over medium-low or low for a few minutes until the cream coats the back of a spoon. Pour it immediately over beef and keep it in an insulated gravy boat if you've got one.

Make sure to have plenty of crusty bread - because you will use it to eat all the extra sauce (at least we do).

Once a year is enough because the heavy cream is a killer....but it is sooooo good.

Posted by: Chasmosaur | April 2, 2007 9:13 PM

There used to be a vendor at Lexington Market in Baltimore who made fresh grated horseradish while you wait. He worked in front of a small fan to blow the fumes away from his face. I don't know if he's still there -- I haven't been to Lexington Market in years.

Posted by: Southern Maryland | April 3, 2007 2:57 PM

Horseradish and carrots -- don't laugh! While your carrots are cooking, mix together some cjopped onion, mayo and horseradish. Mix that into the drained carrots, and put them into a baking dish. Sprinkle with buttered crumbs, bake for half an hour or so. Heavenly!

Posted by: Van Ness | April 3, 2007 3:18 PM

I was given a recipe for a Horsey Salad many years ago that has become one of my favorites. Mix prepared horseradish with mayo and add to lemon and lime Jello along with pecans, diced pineapple and pimiento.

Posted by: Martha Bishop | April 5, 2007 10:07 AM

I now live near Collinsville, Illinois (The Horseradish Center of the US) and every Spring they have a Horseradish Festival at one of the local parks. The grind the root in front of you and then allow you to indicate when to add the vinegar to "soften" the taste. I always ask if they have a calendar tnd then walk away with a dozen jars of the condiment. I freeze and enjoy it all year. It must be about time as I am working on my last bottle now.

Posted by: Bill Weiler | April 7, 2007 12:14 AM

Years ago I accidentally discovered the wonderful taste relationship broccoli or cauliflower enters into with horseradish. Why the combination works so well I have no idea, but believe me, it does.

Posted by: Scotty | April 8, 2007 8:08 PM

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