21 April 2009

Horsin' Around

Earlier this April I was very fortunate to be invited to my first Passover Seder. I am not Jewish and haven't been exposed to many Jewish religious customs, so I was excited to have the opportunity to go - any religious event that involves food automatically interests me. The hosts were Mary and Mark, the aunt and uncle of my good friend, Allison. I asked if there was anything I could bring despite my utter lack of knowledge of what may or may not be appropriate. Allison decided it would be a fun project to make homemade prepared horseradish since her uncle is such a huge fan of it. Unfortunately time ran out before she could get it done, so I ended up taking over the project. It ended up totally worth the effort and the anxiety over inhaling too many horseradish root fumes.

The Passover meal was a tremendous experience! The food was exceptionally tasty, and the atmosphere was even better. Allison, Mary and Mark were lovely hosts who made me feel right at home - I even got involved in a family horseradish eating contest. I am pretty sure I won. We had brisket with potatoes and carrots, green beans with bell peppers, matzoh ball soup, and all the regular components of a Seder meal - horseradish, parsley, egg, Charoset, and matzoh. I loved getting taste so many new-to-me flavors and share in this family's celebration and thanksgiving. If you are ever lucky enough to be invited to a family's Seder, I definitely recommend taking them up on the offer. I hope to make a regular appearance at Passover - and I will bring the horseradish.

I know what you're thinking...
get your mind out of the gutter.

So back to the horseradish... I consulted several cookbooks (not very helpful) and the internet (more helpful) before deciding to just tackle the horseradish root with enough information to be dangerous. I definitely got the impression from every source that grating horseradish root can be a toxic experience.

As you grate the root, enzymes are released which activate the spiciness we associate with horseradish. Fumes are released by the horseradish which can irritate your eyes and breathing, and supposedly the juices can irritate your skin. I say supposedly because after reading all the information I could find on horseradish, I was so scared of it that I wore gloves and grated it outside. I experienced no ill effects from the horseradish and will probably take similar precautions in the future - although I won't be as afraid next time.

After you peel the root and grate it, you allow the horseradish to sit and mingle, so more of the enzymes can be released and activate the heat. I kept tasting the horseradish as I grated, and it was surprisingly sweet. The root in its raw, not-yet-spicy state reminds me of jicama and radish combined. I read several different opinions on how long to let the grated horseradish sit, but according to most sources, the longer it sits, the spicier the end product. The first batch I let sit for about 10 minutes, and then I added a splash of white vinegar to stop the enzymatic process and prevent oxidization (it will turn gray if you leave it sitting too long). A sprinkle of salt was mixed in to taste, and the horseradish was prepared! The second batch sat for at least 22 minutes, but it started to turn gray, so I decided to add the vinegar. All of the horseradish was tasty, but it wasn't too spicy for my tastebuds. I did some additional research and learned that the greener the root, the less spicy it will be (so a root that is sprouting leaves won't be as hot as a root that has none). Next time I will spend some time examining the roots and be sure to buy one without any new growth. Overall, it was a totally worthwhile experiment, and I look forward to perfecting my method.


HoneyB said...

I have never done this myself, have always just bought it from the store. Sounds like a goo dexperience for you and now I might not be so shy of trying it myself!

Donna-FFW said...

I love this post, 1 you are too funny with that picture.. 2 we make horseradish here also and add beets.. it is so delicious. First time to your blog, so nice to meet you!

Josie said...

Shelby, I would still wear the gloves but it isn't THAT scary :)

Donna, Thanks for visiting! Do you just add raw beets or do you roast or boil them first?

RecipeGirl said...

I don't think I've ever seen it whole like that! You're brave :) I'd love it w/ beets!