Horseradish – it’s the herb with a bite

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 30, 2011

It is time to celebrate National Horseradish Month, which is July.

Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana) has been selected by the International Herb Association as Herb of the Year for 2011. For thousands of years, the herb has been known for both its medicinal and its culinary virtues. Like its strong-flavored cousins (including mustard, radish and cress), horseradish has a distinctive sharp bite, which pairs perfectly with its other relatives – broccoli, cauliflower and brusell sprouts.

The hot and spicy horseradish root has been used medicinally by everyone from ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, to medieval and contemporary Europeans and Americans, and for everything from arthritis and rheumatism to digestive disorders, coughs, congestion, poor circulation and high blood pressure.

Native to Russia and parts of Europe, horseradish was brought to America by the early colonists, and it is now naturalized throughout the land. A perennial hardy to -20 degrees, it grows best in full sun and should be kept evenly moist and fertilized regularly. To keep it from becoming invasive, grow it in a container 14 to 16 inches wide. After the first year, it can be harvested in the late fall or spring. It does best in cool, moist soil, so I have never had a great deal of luck with it here in the deep South. Could I grow it in a pot and bring it inside in the summer?

Additional culinary uses for horseradish also date from ancient times. It is one of the five bitter herbs used in Jewish Passover meals. In the 17th century, it was mixed with tansy and wormwood to create “horseradish ale,” and used to revive weary travelers. European chefs discovered how perfectly it compliments meats and seafood in sauces. By the 1800s, it was being grown commercially in the American Midwest, and H.J. Heinz would introduce it as the first product of what would become one of the world’s most successful food manufacturing companies. It is also good for you – rich in vitamin C; one tablespoon of prepared horseradish contains no calories and no fat.

Today, horseradish is different from other herbs in that most of us know it as a commercially prepared condiment rather than a plant in your garden.

Here’s six things to do with a tablespoon of prepared horseradish:

• Stir it into a cup of ketchup or chili sauce along with the juice of half a lemon for a quick seafood cocktail sauce.

• Add it to a cup of tartar sauce; serve with fried seafood.

• Stir it into a cup of your best mayonnaise along with ½ teaspoon each granulated garlic and celery seed. Spread generously on both pieces of bread to dress up a roast beef sandwich.

• Stir it into ½ cup sour cream mixed with ½ cup whipped cream; serve with beef rib-eye steaks hot off the grill.

• Stir it into the sauce for beef stroganoff for an extra kick that goes so well with sour cream, mushrooms, and beef.

• Serve it with corned beef and cabbage or spread it on a Reuben sandwich to cut the richness.

This recipe is the essence of summer using horseradish. I think it is the perfect soup for a hot summer day.

Gazpacho with Horseradish

Makes 6-8 servings

2 large ripe tomatoes

1 cucumber, peeled and seeded

2 green onions

1 small sweet onion

2 ribs celery

3 cloves garlic

1 48-ounce can vegetable juice cocktail

¼ cup fresh basil

2 tablespoons wine vinegar or freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon prepared horseradish

½ teaspoon ground cumin

Tabasco sauce to taste

Salt and pepper to taste

Thin cucumbers for garnish

Basil chiffonade for garnish

Sour cream (optional) for serving

Cut vegetable into large chunks and add to blender or food processor with all the other ingredients. Blend or pulse a few seconds, leaving small bits of vegetable for texture. Adjust seasonings to taste. Transfer to a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Chill in refrigerator several hours, allowing the flavors to marry.

Serve in chilled bowls and garnish with thin cucumber slices or finely chopped fresh basil. If you basil is in flower, scatter a few blossoms in each bowl; they are especially flavorful and beautiful. Serve dollops of sour cream atop soup, if desired.