When I was a little girl, I loved to go out to dinner with my parents. I got to get dressed up, there was always a Kiddie Cocktail, and while my parents enjoyed their martinis, I’d have the relish tray to myself. I was mainly interested in the olives, carrots, and pickled peppers, but the celery, green onions and radishes all contributed to an edible still life on a metal tray that made me feel like a grown-up. That is, until my mother scolded me for eating the black olives off my fingers.Relish trays appeared at every family gathering that I remember. All my aunts had a cut glass relish tray. Every tray was different and every aunt filled it differently. This is my mother’s plate. It is one of many treasures from her kitchen that I still lovingly use.There were always green onions on the tray with salt, and pepper near by. Green and black olives, pits and all, were mounded or used as a garnish. Then there was the ubiquitous radish rose. These weren’t the exquisite beauties that now qualify as food porn, but the “rustic” four quick cuts variety that “bloomed” in cold water. This was probably my first knife skill. I was given a dull paring knife and I’m sure my mother held her breath the entire time.
Occasionally a marinated vegetable or two would show up on the plate. If it was my mother’s tray there would be Aunt Nellie’s Pickled Beets. This was her required element and no other brand would do. Back then I thought that Aunt Nellie was as real as Betty Crocker. Her picture was on the jar and in the ads, so she had to be a real person.
I have a relish tray at most gatherings and because I am a huge fan of “vinegary” sweet & sour flavors, there are marinated vegetables. If a veggie is a little less than perfect or not really in season, marinating can elevate them to tastier heights. Each vegetable has it’s own preparation and flavor profile. The recipes that follow are only suggestions and are therefore open to anyone’s interpretation or variation. Another note. These are not pickled or processed. Once made, they must live in the refrigerator until they are eaten which should happen within a week.
Lets start the party with Marinated Zucchini. Sliced zucchini is salt brined for an hour or two to remove some of the water so that more of the marinating liquid is absorbed. Red onions, garlic, and red pepper flakes, and lemon zest enhance the White Balsamic Vinegar and Olive Oil Dressing.
Asparagus is another outstanding marinating candidate. Well trimmed spears are blanched and shocked before being bathed in a lemon and dry vermouth vinegrette. Garlic, rosemary, lemon zest, and peppercorns round out the flavors.
Mushrooms marinate beautifully. This works equally well with White Button or Crimini Mushrooms. I like Tarragon with mushrooms, but you could leave it out if you’re not a fan. I saute the onions and garlic first then add the other ingredients. Cooking the mushrooms until the liquid reduces slightly will insure the best flavor.
Last but not least are Mama D’s Pickled Beets. Unlike Aunt Nellie’s, these beets are roasted before being joined by a mixture of cider vinegar, cinnamon, cloves, coriander and mustard seed. Light brown sugar adds the necessary sweetness.
Think of including one or two of these recipes for your next party. You’ll get to play the homemade card while saving money by not using “store bought”. Relish trays may be dated, but they are a delicious expression of a kitchen of love. Mama D