I need to clarify something, first. I've eaten beets mixed with horseradish during Easter season all my life, and since it's also part of Passover, it's been serving double duty in my house for the last eleven Springs. While I appreciate the poetry of its place at both tables, I've always just liked it for its full flavor.
Prior to this year I relied on the bottled variety, either mixing jarred horseradish with fresh beets, or using canned beats and mixing those with the jarred root that comes in a vinegar-brine. Last week while preparing for the first Seder of Passover, I decided I wanted to make this traditional side dish from scratch. And now that I have? I'll never eat it any other way!
In the days since I made it, I haven't found a food that it does not compliment. I've eaten it with eggs, turkey breast, beef, fish, a variety of vegetables, rice cakes, matzoh and even tofu. Its stingy sweetness is practically addictive!
I followed Joan Nathan's recipe from "Jewish Cooking In America," but switched the proportions of the ingredients a bit.
One warning: I don't care how tolerant you think you are of powerful, odorous raw ingredients, grating fresh horseradish requires some precautions. I know, I know, I admit I too let out a "Pfft, please" when I read Ms Nathan's instructions to wear tight-fitting swim goggles and to make sure the kitchen's windows were opened while grating the root.
But heed the woman's words. She knows of what she speaks. About thirty seconds into grating the fresh horseradish I was nearly gasping. No onion has ever produced tears like these. I turned on the overhead vent of my stove and even set my grater and bowl near two open windows. That provided little relief. Not until I added the vinegar and sugar did the wicked odor stop stinging my eyes. By that point, though, I was honestly concerned that damage had been done not only to my cornea, but to the structural integrity of my house. Or at the very least the varnish on the kitchen cabinets.
Yes. It really, really is that intense. But the result makes any discomfort endured in the preparation so So SO worth it in the end.
Here's the recipe, as I adapted it. Just remember - you have been warned!
Beets With Fresh Horseradish Root
2 medium-sized red beets, scrubbed and peeled
1 large horseradish root, about eight to ten inches long
1/2 cup vinegar (or more to taste)
1/4 cup sugar (or more to taste)
1. Grate beets into a large bowl. Grate horseradish into same bowl. Mix well until everything is a deep rich red. The beets will quickly stain the white root of the horseradish.
2. Dust sugar over top of grated ingredients, and mix again. Add vinegar and stir well. Taste and adjust sugar and vinegar to your liking. Remember that the beets have a fair amount of sugar in them, naturally, so hold back on adding more.
NOTES: Aside from the strength of the sting, there are some other things to keep in mind when making this. The horseradish root will be fairly knobby, and its outer peel goes down further into the flesh of the root than I'd anticipated. I found that the areas of the root where I'd planed off a few more layers grated most easily. In the places where I hadn't gone as far down, and had only peeled off the first outer layer, I ended up with a large sheet of pulp that grew bigger with every attempt at passing the root through the teeth of the grater. Be mindful of this when peeling. If you prefer larger pieces of the beet and root, then a regular box grater should suit you fine. I thought the resulting dish was a little too pithy, so I spun it around inside the food processor until the beets and horseradish looked like a finely chopped relish. Placing it in a food processor or blender will help the vinegar and sugar spread more evenly throughout the dish. You can store this in a tight-lidded container in the fridge probably indefinitely, given the potency of the horseradish, but I probably wouldn't hold on to it for longer than two or three weeks, max. If you become as smitten with this stuff as I have, it will be devoured long before its shelf-life ever becomes an issue!