Food & Drink

Know your horseradish from your wasabi

By Debbie Arrington

darrington@sacbee.com

Horseradish being harvested in Illinois
Horseradish being harvested in Illinois KRT

Horseradish

Nutrition: One tablespoon of fresh, grated horseradish contains 7 calories, mostly from natural sugars. A good source of dietary fiber and vitamin C, horseradish also is high in sodium and several trace minerals. The same phytochemicals that give horseradish its bite also offer health benefits, such as soothing nerves and stimulating appetite. Horseradish also may reduce swelling and fight inflammation, and acts as a natural diuretic.

Selection: Fresh horseradish is available year-round, but most prevalent in late fall or winter, or early spring. It’s often sold in 2-inch pieces; a whole root can reach more than 20 inches long. Choose roots that look and feel firm with no mold, soft or green spots. Avoid roots that appear shriveled or that have sprouted.

Storage: Store unwashed root in a plastic bag in the refrigerator crisper drawer for up to two weeks. The root dries out quickly once cut and starts to lose its flavor after the first week. While freezing whole roots is not recommended, grated horseradish may be frozen up to six months, although it does lose some of its pungency over time.

Preparation: Peel and grate; that’s about it for this popular condiment. “Prepared horseradish” is grated root, thinned with white vinegar and seasoned with a little salt. “Red” horseradish is thinned with beet juice instead of vinegar. Horseradish will irritate the skin and burn eyes. Always wear gloves and protect eyes. Keep prepared horseradish refrigerated until use.

To freeze horseradish for later use, grate horseradish. Measure 1 tablespoon servings into an ice cube tray and freeze. Once frozen, the horseradish cubes can be transferred to sealed plastic bags or freezer containers.

Daikon

Nutrition: One 7-inch daikon has about 60 calories; 1 ounce of grated daikon has 5 calories. Daikon is very high in vitamin C and dietary fiber. Daikon also is rich in antioxidants and may help reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. Unlike horseradish, it’s low in sodium.

Selection: This “winter radish” is grown year-round, but is most plentiful in California in January and February. Daikon harvested during these cold months tend to be sweeter and milder. Daikon means “big root” in Japanese and that’s an apt description of this root vegetable, which can reach 2 feet long. While the long tapered form is most familiar, daikon also comes in round varieties that look like humongous turnips and can weigh up to 100 pounds. Look for daikon with shiny, smooth white skin. Roots should feel firm and crisp, not soft. Avoid roots with cracks, bruises or brown spots. The tender young leaves also are edible. Traditionally, the leaves are eaten in January as part of a “good luck” rice porridge to assure health and longevity in the coming year.

Storage: Keep tops attached until ready for use. Wrapped tightly in plastic, daikon will keep up to a week in the refrigerator crisper drawer.

Preparation: Peeling is optional; usually a good scrubbing will remove any dirt particles. The tip of the root is considered the spiciest part. Finely grated raw, it’s served as daikon oroshi, a popular Japanese condiment for fish, meat, tempura and other foods. Other sections of the root can be served raw, cooked (roasted, braised or stir-fried) or pickled.

Wasabi

Nutrition: One tablespoon of grated wasabi contains 16 calories. Like its radish cousins, wasabi is high in vitamin C, potassium and antioxidants. It’s believed to help reduce the effects of seasonal allergies.

Selection: Due to its unusual growing conditions, fresh wasabi is a rare find in supermarkets. The plant grows in icy cold, running water such as mountain streams. It’s the gnarly rhizomelike stem, peeled and grated, that makes true apple-green wasabi. If available fresh, choose only firm and unshriveled stems. Milder than the stem, wasabi leaves (fresh or dried) may be substituted. Prepackaged “wasabi paste” usually contains little if any wasabi stem; it’s generally made from horseradish or hot mustard, dyed green with food coloring.

Storage: Wrap the stem in damp paper towels and store in the refrigerator’s crisper drawer. Rinse stem in cold water every few days and trim off any spoilage. With this method, the fresh wasabi stem will keep up to a month.

Preparation: Peel and finely grate stem as needed. Pile grated wasabi into little balls and let sit five to 10 minutes before serving; that allows the flavor and heat to develop. But don’t wait too long; grated wasabi loses its heat after four hours. Besides as an accompaniment to sushi or sashimi, wasabi also may be used to flavor roast vegetables, season salad dressings or soups, or as an accompaniment to grilled fish, chicken and meat.

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