North Americans are saucy people. Nearly every food item is drenched in some kind of sauce, be it ketchup, hot sauce, mayonnaise, salsa, gravy or relish. A friend of mine used to put ranch dressing on nearly everything he ate, including Kraft Dinner! In the name of research, next time you go back home, check out people’s fridges. They are invariably half to three quarters filled with different kinds of sauces. North Americans definitely have a love affair with sauces.
As a saucier who is saucier than most I would like to delve deeper into the world of sauces. I’m always looking for some new, magical sauce that can be created at home to add spice to my own love affair of food. Today the focus will be relish or chutney or piccalilli, however you refer to this condiment you will soon see it may, indeed, be the reigning sauce.
The word "relish" originates from the word "reles" which comes from Old French and means, "something remaining". Seeing as relishes were inspired by a desire to preserve fresh vegetables from the garden for use during the long winters, the name is very befitting. After using the fresh vegetables in their season, the 'remaining' crops were preserved with vinegar, salt and sugar, giving us relish.
In China it is more common to preserve vegetables with salt rather than vinegar, giving us xian cai (literally salty vegetables). This kind of pickle is made from a variety of different veggies, as well, including radishes, bean sprouts, garlic cloves and even sea weed or kelp but not mixed together. Another type of pickle popular in Dalian is suan cai or sour cabbage, which is similar to sour kraut, made with Chinese cabbage and of course lots of vinegar.
These pickles are similar to relishes in that they accompany many dishes and help to keep veggies usable for a longer period but relishes are possibly the most versatile of all sauces as they can be made from a single type of fresh vegetable or fruit or any combination of 2 or more fruits and/or veggies and they can be sweet, sour or spicy. The ingredients may be cut into larger chunks as in the Yam & Apricot chutney that follows or finely chopped like a pickle or pepper relish.
One thing that is particularly attractive about relish is the fact that there seems to be no rules. It allows you to stretch the right side of your brain by allowing your creativity to take over. Simply pickup whatever veggies or fruits are your favorites or are in season at the time, chop, add salt, vinegar, sugar, etc. But the innovation does not stop there, now you get to think up new ways of using your creation: dip veggies/bread/crackers in it, spread it on sandwiches, use it as a marinade for meats or tofu or try cooking with it: spread on fish before grilling for a tangy, juicy result. Liven up the same old scrambled eggs with a spoonful of your favorite relish and you will start looking forward to getting up early!
You may also want to experiment with different kinds of vinegar for heightened flavors and additional varieties. Try sweeter vinegars like cider vinegar or date vinegar for fruit based relishes and lemon vinegar or red and white wine vinegars for lighter flavored vegetable relishes, like corn or cauliflower. A stronger tasting relish is ok; remember you normally don’t eat it on its own but as an accompaniment or to enhance other dishes.
Due to its limitless possibilities as well as its amazing and varied tastes, relish is reigning this season!
SQUASH & APRICOT CHUTNEY
1kg (2lbs) squash, pumpkin or sweet potatoes, your choice
½ cup white sugar
1 – 2 inch piece of ginger root, julienned
1 cup dried apricots, julienned
1 red or green bell pepper
½ cup orange juice
½ cup white vinegar
1 tsp dried chili flakes or ½ tsp cayenne pepper or chili pepper
1 Whichever squash you choose needs to be chopped into quarters and the seeds and peel removed.
2 Cut the yams or pumpkin into bite-sized chunks and steam until soft. (Alternatively these chunks can be tossed with olive or sunflower oil and a bit of salt and roasted in the oven for added flavor.)
3. Combine the remaining ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until mixture reaches a thick, jammy consistency.
4. Stir the squash mixture into the apricot mixture and simmer for 10 minutes. Let cool.
BANANA PEPPER RELISH (sweet and tangy)
4 banana peppers, seeds removed and finely chopped (banana peppers are the common long, narrow green peppers found in nearly every market in Dalian)
2 bell peppers-green, red or yellow, whatever is available
½ a red onion, finely chopped
2 cucumbers, finely chopped
2 tomatoes, finely chopped
½ c white vinegar
¼ cup mustard
¼ cup white sugar
¼ tsp salt
¼ cup water
¼ cup flour
Cook peppers and vinegar together for 5 minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients and cook about 10 more minutes or until thick. Stir constantly as it sticks easily.
NOTE: Use rubber gloves while preparing the peppers and DO NOT touch your face or eyes.
This relish can be used on anything that requires a little kick start: pizza, sandwiches, hamburgers, meat, veggies, fish or even with cheese and bread.
500 ml corn kernels (canned or stripped off 3 or 4 cobs of fresh corn)
2 cups chopped, seeds removed, green peppers
1 cup chopped onions, red or white
1 cup chopped unpeeled cucumber
2 cups chopped ripe tomatoes
2 cups white vinegar or white wine vinegar
1 cup white sugar
2 tbsp salt
1.5 tsp turmeric (can be found at Special Taste Import store near Zhongshan square)
2 tsp mustard
Combine the prepared vegetables in a large pot. Add vinegar, sugar, salt, turmeric and mustard.
Heat to boiling, then simmer for 25 minutes or until the vegetables are soft. Keep in the refrigerator and use it as a dip or sandwich spread or atop baked potatoes. It lasts at least a month in the fridge.
By Pam Peters