Relish — as in corn, pepper or pickle — isn’t something I grew up with. When my parents wanted something tart on a hot dog or at the side of a dinner plate, they’d grab a forkful of cold sauerkraut or a dill pickle. Hamburgers were eaten solely with ketchup.
When I discovered relishes as a college student (in burger restaurants), they took my fancy but didn’t take root in my cooking. Nowadays, Jackie and I often keep a jar of spicy mango chutney in the fridge, and this does the job very nicely — and better than most supermarket relishes.
The other day, though, we were having a dinner of sliders, three apiece. The fun of this is that you can garnish each one differently, and it occurred to me that a bit of sweet, vinegary relish might be just the ticket.
What I did not want was leftovers, so a store-bought jar was out, as was a home-canner’s recipe taking hours and yielding 18 quarts. Thinking about what a relish actually is — a sugar-vinegar base with vegetables and other flavorings — I figured that a tiny batch could be whipped up in just a few minutes. This turned out to be true.
The central ingredient would be red bell peppers because that’s what I had — and because they’re ideal for these condiments, owing to their complex flavor that leeches into the sweet-tart syrup during the brief cooking time. As it happens, I’d roasted and peeled some peppers the day before, but I could have just used them raw and unpeeled. (The cooking time would have increased only slightly, though I’d have lost the almost smoky flavor of the few remaining bits of charred skin.)
For enough relish to dress, say, two normal-sized hamburgers, I put two tablespoons of finely diced onion into a small-but-heavy saucepan along with two teaspoons sugar, some salt and pepper, a 1/2 teaspoon of fresh thyme leaves and water to cover. I boiled this until the water had evaporated and the sugar had just — just — begun to change color. I then added a generous 1/2 cup of finely diced roasted red bell peppers and a tablespoon of delicious cider vinegar, though sherry vinegar would have been good, too. (Had I been using raw peppers, I’d have upped the quantity by a third and diced them a little less finely because they’d have cooked down more than the pre-roasted ones.)
I simmered this until the liquid had reduced and become syrupy and somewhat thickened — just a few minutes over medium-low heat. I tasted for salt and vinegar, added some more of each, returned the relish briefly to the boil and spooned it into a bowl to await dinnertime. (I checked the seasoning again when it had cooled: It was fine.)
Even sweet peppers have a slight bitterness and a tiny kick; this, combined with the vinegar and black pepper, made for a truly relishy relish, so good that I almost wished I’d made more. But since the whole process had taken only 10 minutes or so, I knew I could repeat it any time I liked. And now that I’ve rediscovered relish in a form tailored to the occasional user, repeat it I certainly will.