The contenders for this most glamorous prize include: kohlrabi, which looks like a turnip being exorcised; chanterelles, which look like ectoplasm; morels, which look like [REDACTED]; and frisée, which looks like a 3D diagram representing entropy. But perhaps the most surprising entry for Ugliest Vegetable is the rock-hard, sinewy carrot the colour of coral-bleach known as horseradish.
What can I say? The vegetable is as foreboding as its name. Horseradish seems on a par with words like ‘mandrake’ and ‘eye of newt’, not something you’d see cheerfully shrink-wrapped in Waitrose, pretending it doesn’t look like a witch’s finger pointing towards the cowering broccoli. Its appearance foreshadows its intense and intimidating flavour too: exactly like mustard without the acidity, it sets your nose on fire the moment you try to eat it raw – like chilli but cold. But cooked horseradish tastes of nothing, so you have to eat it raw. Pleasure is pain. What you’re supposed to do is breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth to quell the horseradishy storm in your sinuses (or is it the other way around?), but if you’re dining with Grandmother she may well be disgusted to see you chewing with your mouth open.
Of course I’m being a little unkind about horseradish (although a vegetable which is such a bully on my nasal passages is surely up to this sort of lampooning). In fact, horseradish is complementary to a wide variety of vegetables, including but limited to beetroot. Golden beetroot, pink beetroot or that striped one which looks like a candy cane having a serious identity crisis, any will work with horseradish. I think it’s something to do with beetroot’s fundamental sweetness, as it tastes like an agoraphobic strawberry that was too afraid to grow above ground. It’s as if horseradish has seen beetroot’s sweetness and simply forced friendship by sheer force of personality. Horseradish sees beetroot’s candied flavour, and raises him firecrackers in their culinary poker game. Just in case you think I’m running out of metaphors to mix, let me also add that horseradish is regularly used in aid of pretending to be wasabi. This is a shock because you think a vegetable so in-your-face would be incapable of disguising itself as something else, but there you are.
Horseradish can be used wherever you want the flavour and heat of mustard but without the ulcer-scorching acidity. Therefore, I strongly recommend it in coleslaws. What’s especially useful about putting horseradish in coleslaw is the ability of all dairy and mayonnaise to bludgeon unremittingly sharp flavours into submission. In this scenario, the horseradish becomes more of a harmonious bit player to the other, uncompromisingly pink ingredients. And it’s delicious.
Sorry, what won Ugliest Vegetable? Spaghetti squash. Have you seen these things? They're terrifying.
Pink coleslaw for whimsical people. Serves 4.
- Get out your veg grater! Excited now, aren’t you? Grate 250g cooked beetroot, 1 tart eating apple (cored) and enough raw horseradish root to fill a tablespoon. Also finely shred half a red cabbage and add that too.
- Stir through 2 tbsp vegan mayonnaise or yoghurt, 3 tbsp cooked sweetcorn and some chopped dill or parsley to taste (along with extra horseradish if you want) and eat on toast. Incidentally, and I know this is controversial, if the cabbage is cooked a little before you mix it with the other ingredients, coleslaw is a truly delectable pasta sauce. Imagine creamy carbonara but bright pink with vegetables.