In Praise of Horseradish…

When I was a kid, I looked forward to many dinners, but roast beef with mashed potatoes, boiled carrots and horseradish was not one of them. In those days, my mom’s approach to menu planning meant that the same combinations of side dishes and mains were always employed: fried liver came with creamed corn, mashed potatoes and boiled cabbage, whereas ham came with scalloped potatoes and frozen peas.

With shocking consistency, biscuits accompanied beef stew and clam chowder, while brown bread was the sop up for baked beans. On special nights, like those assigned to the eating of home-made pizza, spaghetti and chop suey, we dined without accompaniments, because the slivers of onion, green pepper and mushroom contained within these exotic delights were felt to meet our dietary needs in terms of vitamins and minerals.

Now, you may be thinking that much of this sounds delicious, and it often was, but because the horseradish was always served with roast beef and mashed potatoes–the former, which for reasons of health and frugality was cooked to well-well-done and sliced paper thin, and the latter, which was mashed with skimmed milk and margarine, and therefore lacking in creamy, buttery goodness–my dislike for those foods had a rather negative effect on my feelings about this most delicious of roots.

Over the years, as my parents (in line with mainstream culture) opened up to new ways of looking at food and diet, and we kids became more outspoken in our desire to have some say in what we ate (and more willing to actually help with the production of this food), our dinners became more and more varied in content. Still, the horseradish sat in the fridge, immune to the ravages of microorganisms and time. Lacking the ability to assert itself, it was forced to wait–for that celebratory holiday meal or the rare family dinner when its presence would be desired and required.

And so it was that until quite recently it had never occurred to me to buy horseradish. For though we are people who enjoy the occasional steak, and have been known to host a summer rib feast, I have never, to my knowledge, cooked up a pot roast. Imagine my shock, then, when a friend arrived at our cottage a few weeks ago with a bottle of said condiment and a plan to produce a delicious potato salad–a plan that was indeed realized. And imagine my delight when this past weekend at the cottage, having volunteered to step in for the ailing chef (aka my mother-in-law) and take over the kitchen duties, I discovered that the very same bottle of this zesty brassica was staring out at me from the refrigerator door.

Known for its curative properties–such as stimulating the immune system and whetting the body’s various appetites, and working to counter an array of undesirables like inflammation, anemia and parasites–horseradish, or as it is known to the botany set, Armoracia Rusticana, is a perennial plant from the same family as mustard and broccoli. It is also a vegetable root whose time, if this blog, and the Horseradish Information Council have anything to do with it, has come. For as their website makes clear, though long admired for its “effects” on beef and seafood, this 3,000 year-old “root with roots” is extremely versatile, low in calories, and beloved around the world.

A host of recipes is available on the site, but for me, the most exciting discovery is what it can do for a bowl of slaw.

This weekend, for example, I made two and dressed them both with the same spicy dressing: one part mayonnaise, one part yoghurt, one part olive oil, one part lemon juice and one part horseradish. A little salt and pepper to taste, and a few cups of thinly-sliced vegetables–in one incarnation, red onion, cabbage, and fennel, and in the other, white onion and kohlrabi–and you’ve got yourself a slaw.

Today, after a much-needed trip to the gym, I had a friend over for lunch, and whipped up a salad of lettuce, toasted almonds, chick peas, tomatoes and red onion dressed with the same dressing (sans mayo).

And tonight? Only a trip to the market will tell, but perhaps a rack of pork ribs with horseradish glaze?

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