My sister has given me a fabulous cookbook on German vegetarian cooking. It is called “Deutschland Vegetarisch” by Katharina Seiser and Stevan Paul. It is written in German and there is no English translation as far as I know, but to my dear Half-German/Austrian friends this book is definitely a recommendation! It brings back childhood memory dishes like creamed potato seasoned with marjoram and basically features lots of comfort food without meat.
My sister and I were especially intrigued by a dish called “Schmorgurken” (literally “braised cucumber”). The dish can be made with mini cucumbers or with the special variety sold on German markets that look a bit like marrow. Mustard, coriander, caraway, allspice, dill and parsley all find their way into this lovely aromatic dish which is served with plain boiled potatoes – though my sister and I indulged by combining it with latkes, creme fraiche and some smoked salmon. Just beware that you really should not add any salt until the very end, so your cucumbers stay crisp. When I prepared the dish again back at home, I mistakenly added salt and the result was incredibly watery and somewhat bland.
Combining fruit with earthy flavours is also a common theme in German cooking. “Himmel und Erde” (literally “heaven and earth”) is a dish of mashed potato combined with fried onion and apple slices. Kale is combined with pears, and savoury latkes are made with potato and onion and eaten with apple sauce.
So I got inspired to make this somewhat adventurous but, according to my husband, “absolutely worthwhile” combination for dinner last night.
Ingredients (for two as a main dish or for four as a side): half a small pumpkin (I used Hokkaido which does not need peeling), two large handfuls of kale leaves, two small onions, 100g pearl barley, one large firm pear, 50g blue cheese, a handful of walnuts, 2 tbsp butter, salt, pepper, 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar, 1 tsp pumpkinseed oil
- Bring a large pot of water to the boil and boil the pearl barley for 20min like you would boil pasta.
- Wash and chop the pumpkin into bite-sized pieces. Peel the onions, cut in half and thinly slice them. Wash the kale and remove the stem and middle vein from each kale leaf (a bit fiddly but worth the labour, as the tough parts take hours of cooking to soften). Chop roughly. Quarter the pear. Peel, core and cut into slices. Roughly chop the walnuts. Cut the blue cheese into small cubes.
- Sauté the onion in a tbsp of butter for a minute or two, then add the pumpkin. Stir until heated through, then cover and leave to cook on low heat for 15 to 20 minutes. Check frequently and add a splash of water if necessary to avoid burning.
- When the pearl barley is cooked, drain in a colander and transfer to a large bowl.
- Fill the pot again with water, bring to boil and throw in the kale. Blanch for 5 minutes, then drain and add to the pearl barley.
- When the pumpkin is cooked, transfer from the pan to the bowl with the pearl barley and the kale. Scrape out the pan, then add the second tbsp of butter. Add the pears and the chopped walnuts and fry until the pears are golden brown and caramellised. Season with salt and plenty of pepper.
- Combine with the other vegetables in the bowl, adding the vinegar and the pumpkin seed oil. Mix carefully, then scatter the blue cheese on top.