Fresh horseradish with beets is an explosion of color and flavor. It is a perfect accompaniment to roasted or braised meat, and baked or smoked fish. You haven’t really tasted horseradish if you haven’t had it fresh from the root. And I’m not just saying that because I like it better (which I do). There’s a scientific explanation as to why fresh is not the same as the stuff you buy in a bottle.
Horseradish undergoes a chemical transformation when it’s grated. Enzymes are released when the flesh is broken. These enzymes cause the formation of mustard oil, which is what turns horseradish from an odorless, ordinary-seeming root, into something that can clear your sinuses and make your eyes tear.
Vinegar must be added to slow the enzymes and stabilize the horseradish. Grated horseradish plus vinegar is referred to as “prepared horseradish” in many recipes. If you don’t add vinegar, the enzymes continue to act and the horseradish will slowly get more and more bitter and turn brown. Though even with the addition of vinegar, prepared horseradish slowly loses its pungency over time. Which is why, you should really give freshly grated horseradish a try.
Centuries ago horseradish was appreciated for its medicinal powers. They claimed it encourages the body to clear mucous. I am sure that’s true based on the few times I got too close to the food processor when I lifted the cover. Plus, it clears my sinuses every time I take a bite. At the Passover seder hot pink horseradish is delicious on matzo and gefilte fish and brisket. But it also has a symbolic importance – a reminder of the harsh bitterness of the Jew’s lives as slaves in Egypt. Fresh horseradish and beet sauce is also commonly served at Easter dinner in parts of Eastern and central Europe, as an accompaniment for lamb.
It’s also beautiful!
- 1 horseradish root, at least 4 inches, peeled and brown spots removed
- 2 medium beets, cooked and peeled or 1 15-ounce can cooked beets, drained
- 4 tablespoons white vinegar
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- A food processor with a shredding blade and an s-shaped chopping blade
- Using about 4 inches of the peeled horseradish root, cut it into chunks that will fit into the feeding tube of your food processor. Use the shredding blade to shred the horseradish. Take out the shredded horseradish and switch to the chopping blade. Return horseradish and all the rest of the ingredients to the bowl of the food processor. Pulse several times, scraping down the sides, if need be. Process for 30 second or so, or until you get a nice finely-textured consistency. Enjoy!
- NOTE: Make it several hours or up to a day ahead, to allow the flavors to blend and a bit of the heat to mellow. It will keep in a tightly-sealed container in the fridge for 3 days.
- WARNING: do not breathe in too close to freshly grated horseradish, as it is blindingly hot. Also, start with a very tiny bit when you first taste it to ensure you know what you are in for.