Monday, September 3, 2012

Flavor Profile : Relish this!

One way to add flavor to foods is to add condiments alongside them. If you think of the usual - mayo, mustard, ketchup - those are some of them, but there are many, many more, especially if you think globally. The one I want to talk about today is relish.

Typical pickle relish
If pickle relish is all you envision when you think of "relish", then you should know that there is a whole universe of relishes out there. There are more varieties of this condiment made around the world than you can imagine. Nearly every continent has its own version. They consist of every conceivable combination of fruit, vegetable, herb or spice you could toss together.

Wikipedia defines relish as “a cooked, pickled, or chopped vegetable or fruit food item typically used as a condiment in particular to enhance a staple. Examples are jams, chutneys, and the North American 'relish', a pickled cucumber jam eaten with hot dogs or hamburgers”.

Relish can be made out of all sorts of things, usually finely chopped fruits or vegetables, and are generally not smooth textured sauces, like ketchup, but rather a bit more chunky. The taste sensation may be sweet or savory, hot or mild, but always there is a strong flavor component that adds to the primary food that it’s being served with.

Mango chutney
Relish seems to have originated in India as a way to preserve vegetables in winter. Indian chutneys are probably familiar to most people. There is a vast array of types: mango, tamarind, coconut, cilantro, onion, tomato, lime, garlic, even apricot, to name a few, with each part of the country seemingly having its own kind. Chutneys began being shipped to European countries in the 17th Century as a luxury food item. By the 19th Century, brands like Major Grey’s and Bengal Club were created for Western tastes and were generally made of fruit, vinegar and sugar cooked down to a reduction.  

A wonderful relish which hails from Serbia is called Ajvar. Consisting of red bell peppers, eggplant, garlic and chili pepper, it is one of the few relishes that are smooth in texture. Depending on the capsaicin content of the peppers and the amount of added chili peppers, it can be sweet, piquant (the most common), or very hot. The relish can be used as a bread spread, a salad or a side dish. I will serve it alongside a mixed appetizer plate I make that usually involves stuffed grape leaves, sheep’s milk feta cheese, kalamata olives, taboulleh salad, sliced tomatoes with onions, and maybe some falafel, pita bread and hummus. Ajvar is also good spread on sandwiches for a different twist. It’s especially good on a veggie sandwich. Layer sliced cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, provolone or munster cheese, and a handful of sprouts on 2 slices of whole grain bread, spread some mayo on one slice and ajvar on the other, and presto! You’ve got a killer sandwich.

I have 2 relish recipes for you: one savory and one sweet/sour. You can make either with summer veggies available right now. The first one is compliments of my mother. It is very refreshing on a hot summer day. Eat it cold as a snack, or at room temp alongside grilled sausages, chicken or fish.

Zucchini relish
Zucchini Relish

3 pounds zucchini
1 red bell pepper
1 yellow bell pepper
2 onions
2 Tbsp. salt
325 ml white wine vinegar
2 Tbsp. mustard seeds
½ Tbsp. cayenne pepper
1 ½ Tbsp. paprika
2 ½ Tbsp. flour

Yield: 8 small jam size glasses with screw top lids for canning/preserving

Chop all the veggies into a small dice. Place in a colander, sprinkle with salt and allow to sit for 30 minutes to draw out the liquid. Place zucchini, bell peppers, onions, vinegar, and mustard seeds in a saucepan and bring to a boil, simmer 15 min.  Add the remaining ingredients, simmer another 10 min. Add a little water to the flour and add this to the pot to thicken. Fill glasses, leaving a bit of space at the top for air, and seal tightly. Place glasses on their heads and allow to cool. 

Friends Greg and Michelle offered up this enticing relish at their house a few years ago as an appetizer. They served it with crackers and cream cheese. Everyone loved it and asked for the recipe. It's really good and easy to make.

Red Pepper Relish

2 large red bell peppers
1 onion chopped
1 cup white wine vinegar
1 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. crushed red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste

Combine the first 5 ingredients in a 2 qt. pan. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to medium high heat, stirring often, until liquid looks like syrup and is reduced by 2/3. Simmer an additional 25 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cool and then puree in a food processor. Serve with crackers and cream cheese or with a wedge of brie. Also great with roasted meats like turkey, chicken and pork. Keeps in the fridge for about a month.

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