Relish: It's more than just a topping for ballpark hot dogs. A spoonful or two can spark almost any meal. And don't think 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 relish jars stocked in the local supermarket, most folks facing the prospect of making their own relish will likely sigh, "Why bother?"
"Anytime 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 of the new Williams-Sonoma's "The Art of Preserving," with Rebecca Courchesne and Lisa Atwood (Williams-Sonoma, $29.95). "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 believes 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 book "The Art of Preserving," or visit the Web site of The National Center for Home Food Preservation at the University of Georgia: uga.edu/nchfp
Pickled zucchini relish
Prep: 35 minutes Marinate: 6 hours Cook: 35 minutes Makes: 3 cups
"Although this zucchini relish is similar to sweet pickle relish, it has a softer texture and a mellower flavor,'' write the authors of Williams-Sonoma's "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 up to 1 month. Or can the relish; sealed jars may be stored in a cool, dry place for up to 1 year.
2 pounds zucchini
1 large yellow or white onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, seeded, diced
2 tablespoons salt
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 cup each: distilled white vinegar, water
1 teaspoon each: celery seeds, freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon each: ground turmeric, pepper
1 Cut the zucchini lengthwise into thin strips using a julienne peeler or a mandoline. Cut the strips crosswise into matchsticks. Transfer to a large nonreactive bowl. Add the onion, bell pepper and salt. Toss to combine. Cover; let stand at room temperature 6 hours or up to 1 day.
2 Have ready hot, sterilized jars and their lids. Drain the zucchini mixture in a large colander. Rinse thoroughly; drain again. Transfer to a large nonreactive saucepan. Add the sugar, vinegar, water, celery seeds, nutmeg, turmeric and pepper. Stir to combine. Heat to a boil over high heat; reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, 25-30 minutes.
3 Ladle the hot relish into the jars, leaving 1/4-inch of space at the top. Remove any air bubbles. Wipe the rims clean; seal tightly with the lids. Process the jars in a boiling water bath 10 minutes. Cool jars; test seals. Store. If the seal has failed during processing, refrigerate the jar up to 1 month.
Per 2 tablespoons: 49 calories, 4% of calories from fat, 0.2 g fat, 0.06 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 12 g carbohydrates, 1 g protein, 193 mg sodium, 1 g fiber
Fire and ice relish
Prep: 30 minutes Cook: 3 minutes
Chill: 3 hours Makes: 3 cups
This relish comes from "Learning to Cook with Marion Cunningham" and can be refrigerated for up to 10 days. "The fire is the cayenne pepper and the cool element is in the tomatoes, bell pepper and onion,'' Cunningham wrote, suggesting one spoon it on corn, chicken, salmon or a baked potato.
3 cups cherry tomatoes, finely chopped, juices reserved
1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded, finely chopped
1 red onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup each: cider vinegar, water
4 teaspoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons each: celery seed, mustard seed
1/2 teaspoon each: salt, freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
1 Put the tomatoes and juices in a medium bowl; stir in bell pepper and onion.
2 Mix together the cider vinegar, water, sugar, celery seed, mustard seed, salt and peppers in a saucepan; heat to a boil over high heat. Boil 1 minute. Remove from the heat; pour over the prepared vegetables. Cool. Cover; refrigerate at least 3 hours.
Per 2 tablespoons: 11 calories, 0% of calories from fat, 0.14 g fat, 0.02 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 2 g carbohydrates, 0.3 g protein, 100 mg sodium, 0.5 g fiber