Sometimes I think German cuisine is very inadequately underestimated. Fact is, there is a lot more to German food that sausages and beer. Until relatively recently the various regions of Germany were independent and autonomous communities. Prior to the national unification in 1871, Germany was divided into many kingdoms and principalities, each with distinct customs, distinct dialects and of course distinct culinary specialities.
Much of the regional foods are based on the country's favorite staples of beer, pork, potatoes, cabbage, and legumes (lentils, peas). Although there is this common factor throughout, many of the dishes are different in the method of cooking, seasoning, or the way they are served, making the regional cuisines of Germany excitingly varied.
One can divide German cuisine in three main sectors: Central, Northern, and Southern, where each region is essentially influenced by the bordering countries.
The dishes in central Germany are comprised of hearty meals and foods. The famed Westphalian ham and dark heavy pumpernickel bread is well-known around the world. Pork is important in this region and many dishes favor a heavy touch with freshly ground black pepper. Gravies are rich and thickened with dried bread crumbs rather than with flour. Frankfurt is recognized for a special herb-flavored green sauce, grüne sosse, made with several fresh herbs, very similar to Salsa Verde in Italy or Sauce verte in France.
The fluffy dumplings of Thuringia, known as grüne klosse are iconic. These feathery klosse are made only from raw and cooked potatoes, flour and sometimes an egg. Served with meat dishes like Rinderroulade (Beef roulade) they usually make up the perfect Sunday lunch. Although in Saxony the foods are similar, Saxonions however take even more pleasure in their sweet cakes: schnitten, stollen, and fruit kuchen are available in countless and delicious variety.
The Northern region, which is influenced by its proximity to the Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands, is characterized by thick soups, pickled and smoked meats and fish, and dried fruits to name a few.
Berlin is famed for its ground meat dishes or the strammer max, which is a snack of buttered rye bread with a thick slice of ham and two fried eggs resting on top and of course Berliner pfannkuchen, the luscious plump jam-filled doughnuts.
Southern German cuisine is characteristically lighter. Being a warm region the landscape is defined by viticulture, where wine flows more easily than beer. Some say Germany's finest cooking comes from the state of Baden Wurttemberg, which is influenced by the neighboring French kitchens. This region also supplies delicious plums and plump cherries which are transformed into the famous Kirchwasser and the Schwarzwalder Kirschtorte.
The regional cooking of Bavaria, in southeastern Germany is probably the cuisine most foreigners will identify as “typically German”. Bavarians love their beer and sausage, probably the the reason why many associate beer and sausage with Germany. Weisswurst, Schweinesbraten (roast pork) or Kalbshaxe (veal shank) are the top favorites. But Bavaria is also very well known for it’s cheese. The pastoral region of the Allgäu, known for its dairy farms boasts of a wide variety of acclaimed cheeses and cheese makers.
Personally, I enjoy the incredible variety of German stews and soups. Especially when winter's short days and dreary weather leave our bodies craving for warmth. Coming home to the embracing aroma of a steaming pot of richly flavored soup or stew has got to be one of the most comforting experiences. And there are plenty types of stews and soups to choose from, from the German kitchen.
Simmering the stew slowly is the secret for the perfectly cooked dish. Slow simmering the ingredients in broth gradually extracts and blends the flavors to excellence. The finished dish will perpetually taste a little different every time it is made, depending on the ratio of the ingredients and at what stage of cooking they are added.
For this session of Cooking School I’d like to share with you a homey and simple German lentil stew. After living here for 17 years, my German lentil stew has evolved over the years, but still keeping it as close to the traditional recipe I cut out from a paper several years ago. I use more vegetables in my stew and throw in some cubed Kassler (smoked pork) for a more robust and smoky flavor. This is really good stuff!
German Lentil and Sausage Stew
Printable version of recipe here
100g smoked bacon, cubed
100g Kassler (smoked pork), cubed
2 small onions, peel left on and halved
300g brown or German lentils, washed
1 liter vegetable stock
1 tablespoon butter
200g carrots, diced
200g parsnips, diced
100g leeks, sliced
4 smoked bratwurst or Wiener sausages
Pinch of sugar
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, chopped
- Heat up a frying pan on medium. Place the onion halves cut side down in the frying pan and allow to blacken gently. Set aside.
- Heat the butter in a pot and fry the bacon and Kassler for 2-3 minutes until golden. Add the lentils, vegetables stock and blackened onions and allow to simmer, covered, for 20 minutes.
- Add the diced and sliced vegetables and simmer for a further 10-15 minutes, then add the sausages and cook through for the final 5-10 minutes.
- Pour in vinegar and season with sugar, salt and pepper to taste. If the consistency of the stew is too thick then pour some more vegetable stock to thin it down according to your liking. I prefer my stew fairly thick.
- Sprinkle with flat-leaf parsley and serve piping hot with a dollop of mustard.
Perfect comfort food, especially in this cold and wet weather. The smoky flavors of the bacon, meat and blackened onion adds a great full-bodied flavor. This is a hearty soup and one needs no further condiments other than a nice spoonful of spicy mustard. The touch of vinegar adds a subtly tart note rounding the stew off wonderfully.
From Plate to Page:
Over on the From Plate to Page blog you can now read all the insightful, sincere and helpful articles in a four part series from Ilva, Jeanne, Jamie and myself. In terms of photography and writing, we talk about what moved us and how we achieved our goals in 2010 and share our plans for 2011. Join us!
You might like these soups and stews from WFLH:
|Carrot and Red Lentil Soup with a Hint of Cumin||Tuscan Tomato and Bread Soup|
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