12/28/11

Warning: Sinus Clearing Ahead

I was such a picky eater as a kid, no one would have predicted that I'd someday be a fan of hot, spicy, and strong flavored foods. Hot chile powder from New Mexico, wasabi paste with sushi, jalapenos - yum! Now I've up'd the bar, with my homegrown, homemade prepared horseradish.

One of those ugly dried roots in the grocery produce section caught my attention two years ago. I wondered if it would grow if I planted it in my veggie garden. I bought it, brought it home, dug a deep narrow hole, and buried the whole thick root in my spring garden soil. Boy, did it grow! Big, lush green foliage sprung up during the hot summer, first from the original root, then from the soil around the root. A little internet research told me that horseradish plants can be very invasive - oh no, I don't need a whole garden of horseradish! At the end of that first summer, I dug up the original plant and all the little baby plants it had sprouted. I replanted most of it, in an area I call my "excess" garden, where I allow invasive plants room to grow unrestricted (like mint). I kept some little roots, chopping fine and using with beef dishes. This was one potent horseradish!

I must add that I continued to pull up little horseradish volunteers in the vegetable garden during this past spring and summer. It wasn't hard to identify them - just break off a leaf and give it a whiff! The leaves are edible, by the way, and make a tasty addition to a salad, or an interesting flavor note in a stir-fry. By July, I stopped seeing any more horseradish greens, so I had cleared out all the invasive roots. In the excess garden where I had transplanted the horseradish the previous fall, the plants again grew vigorously. My November garden post pictures some roots I harvested this fall: horseradish, jerusalem artichokes, and beets.

Now, what to do with the horseradish roots? It wasn't difficult to find directions online for making my own prepared horseradish. I was warned by a friend that I should grind the roots outdoors, due to the very pungent horseradish "fumes" which would be released. If you are a fan of horseradish, you know the taste and smell will rush into your sinuses - a very different "hot" than with hot peppers. I had dug up several large pieces of root plus some long 1/2 inch diameter pieces, and I scrubbed them with a veggie brush, revealing beautiful white roots. It was good that I had harvested a sizable amount, since my Vitamix blender chops best when there is at least a cup of food in the container. (I reserved some horseradish chopped as thin slivers, to air-dehydrate and grind it into a powder, which worked out very well also). I read that freshly grated horseradish root can turn brown as it oxidizes, so I didn't cut it up until I was ready to use it.

So out to the porch table I went, ground the horseradish to a fine chop in the Vitamix - do not inhale when you open the lid! I added a touch of salt, then added a small amount of lemon juice (to keep it from discoloring) and vinegar. One recipe I read calls for 1/4 to 1/3 c vinegar, 1/2 to 1 tsp salt, and 2 cups of freshly grated horseradish. I wasn't so precise in my measurements; I watched the consistency as I blended, adding only as much liquid as needed to make it into a thick paste.

Viola! Extra-potent homemade horseradish! I made enough to fill 3 small jars, refrigerated one for immediate use, and froze two for future enjoyment. Cooking destroys the mustard oils which give horseradish its heat, so it's best to use uncooked, or add last to cooked dishes. Horseradish is traditional with roast beef, great with potato dishes, a good addition to sandwiches, and yummy in deviled eggs. Ask for a taste if you visit!