Relish is much more than just a topping. ‘A cooked or pickled sauce usually made with vegetables or fruits and often used as a condiment’, as the Webster’s New World dictionary describes it, relish can be smooth or chunky, sweet or savoury and hot or mild. Not as viscous as your desi chutneys, though, and not as smooth-flowing as ketchups. A spoonful or two can add a spark to almost any meal.
And relishes are not made from pickled cucumbers anymore — today, they are all about tomato, corn, eggplant, and many more seasonal vegetables and fruits.
Whip it up
Given all the relish jars stocked in upmarket departmental stores and fresh varieties available at restaurants, most folks facing the prospect of making their own relish will likely sigh, “Why bother?” But, “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,” says 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 flavour notes,” says Field, co-author of the new book, The Art of Preserving. “Relish is not like mayonnaise. Mayo binds things together. Relish is the soloist in the band,” he adds.
“There are so many ways to make your food have that one difference,” says cookbook author Monica Bhide. “Some people go out of their way to buy organic. But for me, it is always the little things like relish, one of the most overlooked and underused items in the kitchen,” she adds. Relishes can sport a dazzling array of flavour, but not all recipes are complicated. Field’s first relish was made by chopping up pickled cucumbers in the food processor. He 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 meal with such oomph,” she said.
Eggplant and tomato relish
Preparation time: 40 minutes Cooking time: 55 minutes
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic
1/3 cup pitted olives
1 cup red wine, vinegar, salt
1/3 cup finely sliced fresh basil leaves
Freshly ground pepper
1. Arrange eggplant slices in a single layer on a towel cloth. Sprinkle both sides with salt; drain eggplant. Rinse under cold running water; pat dry.
2. Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Cook the eggplant in batches, stirring often, until lightly browned, about 10 minutes.
3. Add remaining 1 tablespoon of the olive oil; reduce heat to medium-low. Add the onion; cook, stirring often, until tender, about 15 minutes. Add the garlic; cook, stirring, for 2 minutes.
4. Stir in the tomatoes, olives, vinegar. Raise the heat to high; heat to a boil. Reduce heat; gently stir in the eggplant and basil; simmer. Season with pepper.