Great German Side Dishes
Who Says Meat Has to Be the Main Attraction?
There are an infinite amount of side dishes to accompany German meals. Modern Germans steam plenty of broccoli, heat up cans of mixed vegetables and dress small salads. However, in restaurants and cafes one finds the traditional side dishes that are so very typical of German food. Accompanying such main foods as Schnitzel, Haxe, roast pork, sausages, Sauerbraten and smoked chops, side dishes generally play only a minor role. And although more often than not the main dish persuades the gastronome, it is in the side dishes that an average meal becomes a great meal. German side dishes need to be examined in more depth.
"What I say is that, if a fellow really likes potatoes, he must be a pretty decent sort of fellow." A. A. Milne
The most common and important ingredient on the German plate is actually a new world food. Introduced in the 17th century, the potato has become synonymous with German cuisine. Known to every executive chef, fast food cook and home cook, potatoes are a mainstay throughout German and Austrian cuisine. The German potato is much like the American red or new potato. They are not very starchy when compared to an Idaho russet potato; German potatoes are much creamier in taste and smoother in texture. Here are the most common examples of potato side dishes:
Kartoffelbrei: Mashed potatoes. Whipped to a silky consistency with heavy cream and butter, chopped parsley is often sprinkled on top right before they are served. However, mashed potatoes are not as popular as fried potatoes.
Bratkartoffeln: Fried potatoes. After boiling the potatoes, they are sliced and fried in oil to perfection, often with bacon and onions, salted and sprinkled with pepper. These accompany many varying dishes, and are a favorite of home cooks.
Salzkartoffeln: Basically just boiled potatoes with salt and parsley. Silky and smooth, they pare well with fish, or lighter dishes. Leftovers become Bratkartoffeln the next day!
Pellkartoffeln: Boiled potatoes with the skin left on.
Kartoffelsalat: Potato salad. I have never had what my American supermarket refers to as "German potato salad," that warm potato salad with a thick sauce. I’ve only had mayonnaise-based potato salad, and it was always served cold. Not to say warm potato salad does not exist, it does, but I do not remember coming across it at restaurants. Most potato salad is served with grilled sausages.
Kroketten: Oval, thumb sized portions of mashed potatoes that have been coated with bread crumbs and then deep fried. Very tasty and a favorite of my students!
Klösse: A potato ball is the best way to describe these wonderful creations. Using raw, finely shredded potatoes as well as mashed potatoes, they are mixed together and boiled. The famous Thüringer Kloss has croutons in the middle, but every region in Germany has their own variations. They are then boiled for a few minutes until cooked and served immediately with a hefty portion of meat and gravy. Unlike mashed potatoes, Klösse actually suck up the gravy like a sponge.
Noodles and Dumplings
Nudeln: Just plain old basic noodles that are generally served with heavy meats and sauces.
Spätzle: A traditional noodle made in Swabia, south western Germany. Many different variations exist throughout Germany. Home cooks in Swabia often have their own Spätzle cutting boards or colander. The dough is pushed hard through the holes of the colander directly over boiling water. As the dough is forced through the holes, they are cut off and drop into the water forming little dumpling like noodles. Depending on the dish or the cook, these noodles are sometimes short and fat or sometimes they are long and dense.
Knödel: Dumplings. These wonderful creations are a favorite of inns throughout Germany. Usually made with day-old rolls, they are steamed on the top of stews or roasts. In Bavaria, these dumplings are often served with a Haxe, a smoked pork shank.
Limeys and Krauts
How did our friends across the pond get their names "Limey" and "Kraut"? The term Limey came about from English travelers or immigrants coming to the American colonies. In route, they always had to eat a lime in front of the captain to ensure that they did not contract scurvy, a horrific disease caused by a vitamin C deficiency. Germans also played an important part in early American history and during their travels to America they faced the same scourge of disease. German boats, however, rather than carrying limes, carried barrels of sauerkraut to ward of the malady. We can be quite rude, can’t we?
Erbsen und Möhren: Mixed peas and carrots in a bechamel sauce. Rarer at restaurants, but plentiful at homes throughout Germany.
Sauerkraut: The staple and the stereotype. Sauerkraut is fermented cabbage, and children generally run from its smell and even its name. Although an acquired taste, it’s as authentic as Germany gets! Quite pungent and tangy, it pairs well with hearty, smoked meats and fatty sausages.
Rotkohl: Using red cabbage, Rotkohl starts with shredded apples, onions and cabbage all sauteed and then drowned in a nice dark red wine. The sauce is reduced and the flavor concentrated. This is not fermented at all but does have nice vinegar notes.
Grüne Bohnen: Green beans: Not unlike the French haricot verts, German green beans are blanched and served immediately. Poured liberally over the beans are bread crumbs that were quickly fried in butter, which adds a buttery crunch to the beans.
There are plenty of other side dishes that are on menus throughout the German speaking areas of Europe. However, those described and illustrated above are generally the more popular and most common. Sometimes the best meal is the one with the best sides. And German cuisine has such excellent side dishes that they often become the main attraction.