It all started with the horseradish root sitting in my refrigerator, looking like a big dinosaur bone. I'd used a small piece of it the week before, and now I had the rest of this giant, rough, primordial plant just sitting and lurking in my fridge, hogging my crisper and acting as a reproachful reminder of food waste.
So I did the only thing you can do with that much horseradish root: I decided to make homemade prepared horseradish.
The recipe itself was elementary. It required four ingredients and about 10 minutes work (though I did need to take some simple safety precautions). And the results were revelatory. This homemade version of horseradish offered a fresh taste and much, much more sinus-clearing bite than you get with most commercial brands. Encouraged by my horseradish success, I moved on to mustard and chutney.
I love condiments. They're sometimes classified as culinary extras, but they add so much flavour to so many things.
They're versatile, complementing roasted meat, giving flavour to a sandwich, spiking a salad dressing. I often doctor up store-bought condiments, stirring in some chopped fresh tarragon to Dijon mustard, or transforming store-bought mayo with canned chipotle peppers or a mixture of lemon juice, minced garlic, tomato paste and smoked paprika.
Making condiments from scratch was even more satisfying and -- as with so many things in the kitchen -- ended up being easier than I thought. I no longer think of condiments as things that have to be purchased at the supermarket. In fact, I'm starting to eye that ketchup bottle in my fridge, wondering whether I can do better.
Homemade Prepared Horseradish
375 ml (1 1/2 cups) peeled and cubed horseradish root
90 ml (6 tbsp) white wine vinegar
About 90 ml (6 tbsp) water
15 ml (1 tbsp) granulated sugar
5 ml (1 tsp) kosher salt or 2 ml (1/2 tsp) regular salt
Place the cubed horseradish root in the bowl of a food processor. (Make sure the lid is secure and the feed tube is blocked by the pusher. The fumes can be strong enough to burn your eyes and nose. When checking the mixture, make sure to remove the lid carefully, and do not put your face near the mixture. Work in a well-ventilated area.) Pulse until minced. Immediately add vinegar, and pulse until blended. (See tester's notes.) Then add water, a little at a time, until mixture reaches the desired consistency. Add sugar and salt and pulse again. Spoon into a lidded glass jar, store in the fridge and use within 4 weeks. The hotness will mellow a bit over time.
Tester's notes: My horseradish was plenty hot, releasing waves of potent sharpness as I was preparing it. Some people actually make their horseradish outside and wear goggles and rubber gloves. I didn't go that far, but I do advise being careful: While chopping the root, keep your hands away from your face and eyes and wash your hands immediately afterwards. Be cautious once you start processing the horseradish, keeping your face away from the mixture. Open the kitchen window, if possible.
You can control the heat of the finished horseradish to some extent. Cutting and processing the horseradish root releases the oils that give the plant its heat; the vinegar stabilizes them. Therefore, if you want your horseradish to be less hot, add the vinegar immediately. If you want it insanely hot, wait up to 3 minutes after processing to add the vinegar. As well, the amount of processing will affect the heat: a coarse grind yields a milder horseradish, while a finely ground mixture will become hotter.
Homemade Grainy Mustard
60 ml (4 tbsp) mustard seeds (you can use a mix of yellow and brown, keeping in mind that darker seeds are hotter)
80 ml (1/3 cup) apple cider vinegar
60 ml (1/4 cup) water
10 ml (2 tsp) fresh thyme, minced
15 ml (1 tbsp) brown sugar, or more to taste
2 ml (1/2 tsp) salt
In small non-reactive bowl, combine mustard seeds, vinegar, water, allspice and thyme; refrigerate, covered, overnight. Transfer to a blender and mix until desired consistency is reached (you can make the mixture quite smooth and creamy or leave some graininess). Add brown sugar and salt. Spoon into a lidded glass container and store in the fridge. Let flavours blend and mellow for a day or so and then use within 2 weeks.
Tester's notes: This mustard is tasty, packing much more heat than most commercial brands.
Pear and Raisin Chutney
2 pears, peeled, cored and diced (about 625 ml or 2 1/2 cups)
80 ml (1/3 cup) raisins
80 ml (1/3 cup) red onion, minced
175 ml (3/4 cup) apple cider vinegar
250 ml (1 cup) brown sugar
15 ml (1 tbsp) crystallized ginger, minced fine
5 ml (1 tsp) kosher salt or 2 ml (1/2 tsp) table salt
2 ml (1/2 tsp) cinnamon
1 ml (1/4 tsp) cloves
Pinch red chili flakes
Place all ingredients in a large, heavy-bottomed, non-reactive pot. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, and then reduce heat to medium-low to medium, just so the mixture stays at a steady simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 45 minutes, or until the mixture starts to thicken. (When you drag a spoon through the mixture, there should be a moment before the gap fills again.) You might have to stir more frequently near the end of the cooking time to prevent scorching. Spoon into a lidded glass jar and store in the fridge. Wait 1 week for the flavours to blend, then use within 3 weeks.
Tester's notes: With a sweet-and-sour fruity taste, this chutney would pair well with pork, chicken or cheese.