Freshly grated horseradish emits fumes that can make your nose run and irritate your eyes, so prepare it in a well-ventilated area, or even outside if your eyes are extremely sensitive. First, peel a 3- to 4-inch section of root as you would a carrot. Cut it into half-inch chunks and drop them in a blender or food processor. Add 1/4 cup cold water and a bit of crushed ice and grind to a fine texture. Have some white-wine or rice-wine vinegar handy.
Hot or Not?
Customize the heat of your horseradish sauce by adding the vinegar immediately for mild horseradish, either right after grinding is complete or as you are still grinding. If you like stronger flavor, wait 3 minutes to add the vinegar. Add 2 to 3 tablespoons vinegar and 1/2 teaspoon salt for each cup of grated horseradish. In either case, pulse the machine to blend in the final ingredients. If your preparation has too much liquid, simply drain some of it off through a fine strainer until you get the consistency you want. Store your fresh horseradish in a clean jar in the refrigerator, where it will keep its good quality for four to six weeks.
Okay, so one tablespoon of home-prepared horseradish does have a few calories (less than 7!), but it is a source of fiber, vitamin C, and folate.
Newbie hint: For smoother, straighter, fatter roots, the University of Illinois recommends removing the suckers--leaf-bearing sprouts that form above ground. When the plants are about 8 inches tall, use a sharp knife to cut off the suckers, leaving only three or four at the center of the crown.
Master's tip: Grating horseradish crushes the cells of the root, releasing the volatile oils (isothiocyanates), which give horseradish its heat. Adding vinegar stops this enzymatic reaction. The longer you wait to add the vinegar, the hotter your prepared horseradish will be.
Most of us know horseradish as a classic accompaniment to hot or cold roast beef. Here are more imaginative ways to use the inimitable flavor of homemade horse-radish. When using horseradish in hot dishes, add it just before serving, as cooking destroys its flavor.
Photo: Christa Nue