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.
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.
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