A root that packs a powerful punch (with apologies to food air-mile lobbyists)

My culinary dreams just came true!

This afternoon, post-Bikram, I was plodding about the supermarket stocking up on my staples in a bit of a daze, when I happened upon something incredible.

There it was. Tucked away unassumingly, minding its own business on the bottom shelf of the fresh herbs section. No fanfare. No neon signs. Just there for the taking. But only if you happened to spot it. I’m not telling you which supermarket, as you might go and take it all.


Horseradish root

The continual, all-year-round supply of most of the fruit and veg we take for granted has many advantages, but one of the downfalls is that we never get a surprise when something literally crops up for a short time only, as nature intended. Alas, aside from my beloved Jerusalem artichokes, it doesn’t really happen anymore and, resultantly, the culinary seasons matter less and less to us. Even asparagus has had its traditional season extended by buying in from other countries, ditto strawberries, and many more.

Horseradish is something which takes me right back to early childhood Sunday lunches at home, with succulent, thick, pink-in-the-middle slabs of beef from our local butcher (I know, I know), slathered unapologetically with Burgess horseradish sauce, all served up with my mum’s raspberry vinegar and a towering Yorkshire. Only once or twice did I experience the real deal, the made-at-home, slap-you-round-the-face stuff. It hurt like hell as the vapours slammed into the back of my nose, followed by the lingering sting in the eyes. But God, it was good.

Weird thing is, I don’t get why horseradish finds itself in this privileged, exclusive category. My friend, Stuart, a professional gardener and all-round countryside boffin, tells me that you can find horseradish growing on grass verges all over the place in the UK. I’m reliably informed that the leaves can also be eaten and taste pretty much like the root itself, although a tad milder. (Photos on Google Images abound, if you want to know exactly what you’re looking for on your next spring-time walk).

Shortly after this conversation, I was at a food fair in Leicester, and found a herb stall selling the stuff in pots. So, of course, I bought one.

“Don’t, whatever you do, plant it in the garden”, warned Stuart, when I told him of my lucky find. Apparently, it’s as prolific as mint, which I did make the mistake of planting in my garden once. After it had colonised half of it within a matter of weeks, I decided that a modest pot or two might be a better option.

But, given the season we’re entering into, there it sits, my little potted horseradish plant, with two leaves and probably not much action going on underneath the soil as yet.

In case you hadn’t gathered, I can tend slightly towards impatience. So I had to buy that horseradish root because I want to cook with it NOW. And, bad though it may be, I had to ignore the fact that its arrival on that shelf, all the way from Hungary, was the result of a good few tanks of diesel. Or, worse still, kerosene. Look, I never said I was perfect.

I’m not waiting for my plant to get with the programme when the sun starts to shine again in 2014. And even then, experts say you should leave it not one, but preferably TWO whole seasons before attempting to harvest the roots.

So, what to cook? I suspect any experiments I embark upon in the next few days (Sunday looks favourite) may well pop up in forthcoming posts, but I already have a velvety beetroot soup in mind.

I’m certainly too scared to throw caution to the wind and cook with it tonight, so instead, a rainbow spectrum of veg awaits: fresh beetroot; red pepper; leeks; sweet potato; butternut squash; brussel sprouts (a little off-piste, admittedly, but I had a craving); 1 green chilli, (including seeds); celery and tomatoes, topped with a few sprigs of fresh thyme. I measured out a little olive oil and mixed this with fresh, finely-chopped basil and sage, 4 crushed garlic cloves, salt, pepper, the juice of half a lemon and a teaspoon of rose harissa. I poured this over the top and, as I write, it’s roasting in the oven for around 30 mins so the veg are still firm. I shall be enjoying that little lot with cauliflower pulsed in my food processor, then simmered gently for a few minutes in Marigold Bouillon vegetable stock.

It certainly beats witchetty grubs and cockroaches. Sorry, Matthew and Joey, but it’s what you signed up for…

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by George

I’m George Dryden - a slightly-off-the-wall-but-in-a-good-way journalist, blogger and almost-raw vegan. In April 2014, I graduated as a Certified Health Educator from the Hippocrates Health Institute, in Florida, USA (more about George)

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