Beet and Horseradish Relish (Sfecla cu hrean)
1 pound beets, greens removed
1 pound peeled horseradish root
1/2 cup cider vinegar (grandma used white)
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Rinse beets well to remove any soil or sand clinging to the surface. Cut beets into quarters and toss with a small amount of canola oil so that they are lightly coated. Place beets in a baking dish just large enough to hold them and roast for approximately 50 minutes, until flesh yields easily when pierced with the tip of a knife. Let beets cool and then slip off the skins (they will peel off easily after cooking). Reserve.
2. Grate horseradish on the fine face of a box grater or with a microplaner and place into a large mixing bowl. Stir in the vinegar, sugar, pepper, and salt. Grate beets with the same grater or microplaner and add them along with any accumulated juice to bowl with horseradish mixture. Mix thoroughly until the red colour is evenly distributed. Spoon into clean glass jars and store in the refrigerator for several weeks.
Pairs Well With
Traditional recipes for Romanian sfecla cu hrean, including grandma's, call for boiled beets to be grated into the horseradish. Knowing what wonders roasting the beets has done for my borscht, I decided that concentrating their sugars in the oven would result in a “beetier” relish. The result is quite nice; the horseradish is still potent but is blunted nicely by the deeper flavour roasting draws from the beets.
I’ve also amped up the sweetness by using cider vinegar instead of the more traditional white. Another word of advice: Be prepared to cry while grating the horseradish. The best texture is achieved by using the fine face of a box grater or even a microplaner, but going that route means you’ll be bent over a bowl of this root for a good 15 minutes. By the time I finished my eyes were streaming, my nose was running, and there were enough lingering fumes in the kitchen to make me tear up whenever I entered the room for the rest of the day. (My Aunt Janice recommends grating the horseradish outside so that the fumes dissipate and using a food processor to minimize the time you spend hunched over the root.) Oh, but the pain is worth it. The brilliant colour and complex flavour make this Easter condiment unique.