Relish is more than just a topping for ballpark hot dogs. A spoonful or two can spark almost any meal. And don't think that all relishes are made from pickled cucumbers; relishes today are made from tomato, corn, eggplant and many more seasonal vegetables and fruits.
Nor does making a relish mean being chained to the kitchen stove all day, fooling with canning jars and water baths. Most relishes simply can be refrigerated.
Still, given all the relishes in the local supermarket, most folks facing the prospect of making their own will probably say, "Why bother?"
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"Any time you take the time to make a relish or any pickled product from scratch, you will have a freshness and a liveliness you won't get with a commercial product," said Rick Field, chief executive officer and "chief pickler" of Rick's Picks, a New York City-based maker and purveyor of pickled products.
"Relish provides the bright flavor notes," said Field, co-author with Rebecca Courchesne and Lisa Atwood of the new Williams-Sonoma book The Art of Preserving. "Relish is not like mayonnaise. Mayo binds things together. Relish is the soloist in the band."
For Monica Bhide, a cookbook author and writer from Dunn Loring, Va., relishes are integral to her signature cooking style.
"There are so many ways to make your food have that one difference," she said. "Some people go out of their way to buy organic. Some people grow and use their own herbs. You can get as complicated as you want. But for me, it is always the little things, like relish, one of the most overlooked and underused items in the kitchen."
Relishes can sport a dazzling array of flavor, but not all recipes are complicated. Field's first relish was made by chopping up pickled cucumbers in the food processor. Field thinks ingredients should "speak for themselves" in a relish.
Bhide prefers "intensely strong" relishes because they make "a simple entree shine."
"With a little imagination, a relish can brighten up a dish with such oomph," she said. "They are my secret weapons when pulling a meal together."
What is relish?
"A cooked or pickled sauce usually made with vegetables or fruits and often used as a condiment; can be smooth or chunky, sweet or savory, and hot or mild." — Webster's New World Dictionary of Culinary Arts
For detailed how-tos on canning, consult The Art of Preserving or go to the Web site of The National Center for Home Food Preservation at the University of Georgia: UGA.edu/nchfp.
"Although this zucchini relish is similar to sweet-pickle relish, it has a softer texture and a mellower flavor," write the authors of The Art of Preserving. They prefer using a julienne peeler or mandoline for this relish, but you can always chop the zucchini instead. You can refrigerate it for as long as a month. Or can the relish; sealed jars can be stored in a cool, dry place for as long as one year.
Pickled zucchini relish
2 pounds zucchini
1 large yellow or white onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, seeded, diced
2 tablespoons salt
1¼ cups sugar
1 cup distilled white vinegar
1 cup water
1 teaspoon celery seeds
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
½ teaspoon pepper
Cut zucchini lengthwise into thin strips using a julienne peeler or mandoline. Cut strips crosswise into matchsticks. Transfer to a large non-reactive bowl. Add onion, bell pepper and salt. Toss to combine. Cover; let stand at room temperature 6 hours or as long as 1 day.
Have ready hot, sterilized jars and their lids. Drain the zucchini mixture in a large colander. Rinse thoroughly; drain again. Transfer to a large non-reactive saucepan. Add sugar, vinegar, water, celery seeds, nutmeg, turmeric and pepper. Stir to combine. Heat to a boil over high heat; reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, 25 to 30 minutes.
Ladle hot relish into jars, leaving ¼ inch of space at the top. Remove any air bubbles. Wipe the rims clean; seal tightly with the lids. Process jars in boiling water bath 10 minutes. Cool jars; test seals. Store. If the seal has failed during processing, refrigerate the jar up to 1 month.
Makes 3 cups.
Nutrition information per serving (2 tablespoons): 49 calories, 0.2 g. fat, 0 mg. cholesterol, 12 g. carbohydrates, 1 g. protein, 193 mg. sodium, 1 g. fiber.
This relish comes from Learning to Cook With Marion Cunningham and can be refrigerated for as long as 10 days. "The fire is the cayenne pepper, and the cool element is in the tomatoes, bell pepper and onion," Cunningham wrote, suggesting that you spoon it on corn, chicken, salmon or a baked potato.
Fire and ice relish
3 cups cherry tomatoes, finely chopped, juices reserved
1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded, finely chopped
1 red onion, finely chopped
¼ cup cider vinegar
¼ cup water
4 teaspoons sugar
1½ teaspoons celery seed
1½ teaspoons mustard seed
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1⁄8 teaspoon ground red pepper
Put tomatoes and juices in medium bowl; stir in bell pepper and onion.
Mix together cider vinegar, water, sugar, celery seed, mustard seed, salt and pepper in a saucepan; heat to a boil over high heat. Boil 1 minute. Remove from heat; pour over prepared vegetables. Cool. Cover; refrigerate at least 3 hours.
Makes 3 cups.
Nutrition information per serving (2 tablespoons): 11 calories, 0.14 g. fat, 0 mg. cholesterol, 2 g. carbohydrates, 0.3 g. protein, 100 mg. sodium, .5 g. fiber.
This recipe for an updated version of caponata, the Sicilian eggplant antipasto, comes from The Art of Preserving. This relish can be jarred as is or stored in the refrigerator for no more than two weeks.
Eggplant and tomato relish
2 pounds globe eggplants, sliced ¾-inch thick
¼ cup salt
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 yellow onion, halved, sliced ¾-inch thick
2 cloves garlic, minced
1¼ pounds tomatoes, peeled, cored, cut in ¾-inch dice
1⁄3 cup pitted Kalamata olives
3 tablespoons pine nuts, lightly toasted
2 tablespoons capers
½ cup red wine vinegar
1⁄3 cup finely sliced fresh basil leaves
Freshly ground pepper
Arrange eggplant slices in single layer on paper towels. Sprinkle both sides with ¼ cup salt; drain eggplant 1 hour. Rinse eggplant under cold running water; pat dry with paper towels. Cut into ¾-inch dice.
Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in large non-reactive saucepan over medium heat. Cook eggplant in batches, stirring often, until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
Add remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil; reduce heat to medium-low. Add onion; cook, stirring often, until tender, about 15 minutes. Add garlic; cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, olives, pine nuts, capers and vinegar. Raise heat to high; heat to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; gently stir in eggplant and basil; simmer until heated through, about 5 minutes. Season with pepper; add more salt if needed.
Ladle hot relish into hot, sterilized jars, leaving ¼ inch of space. Remove any air bubbles. Wipe the rims clean; seal tightly with sterilized lids. Process jars in boiling-water bath, 20 minutes. Cool jars; test seals. Store. If the seal fails, refrigerate that jar for no more than 2 weeks.
Makes 6 8-ounce jars.
Nutrition information per serving (2 tablespoons): 22 calories, 2 g. fat, 0 mg. cholesterol, 2 g. carbohydrates, 0 g. protein, 206 mg. sodium, 1 g. fiber.
A recipe from the new Forgotten Skills of Cooking by Darina Allen, who writes that this sweet-sour relish will "keep for ages and is particularly good with cold meats, coarse country terrines or goat cheese salads." The relish can be refrigerated for about 2 months. Serve cold.
Beet and ginger relish
8 ounces onion, chopped
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 pound raw beets, peeled, grated
1 piece (½ -inch long) ginger root, grated
½ cup red wine
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
Combine onions and butter in non-reactive saucepan; cook over medium-low heat until onions are very soft, about 10 minutes. Stir in sugar, salt and pepper. Add beets, ginger, red wine and vinegar; cook 30 minutes over low heat. Spoon relish into sterilized jars, seal, let cool.
Makes 2¼ cups.
Nutrition information per serving (2 tablespoons): 37 calories, 2 g. fat, 5 mg. cholesterol, 5 g. carbohydrates, 0 g. protein, 79 mg. sodium, 1 g. fiber.