Submitted by Susanne Bacon
I have been called some names over here after my arrival. One of them was “sauerkraut” or “Kraut”. There is worse you could be called – still …
Actually, I like sauerkraut. When I was a child, my mother always gave me some fresh from the can, and as a grown-up I still sometimes indulge in a tiny can of Mildessa kraut every once in a while.
Why is kraut such a popular dish in Germany? And why do we eat it sour so very often? That is an easy one. Sour cabbage keeps, as the acidity serves as a preservative. And because sour cabbage of any kind helps break the fat of anything eaten along with it. That is why we have sauerkraut with fat pork dishes such as hocks, sausages, or a crisp roast with a thick crust on. That is why we have hot red sour cabbage with goose or other poultry.
The area I come from in Germany is famous for its coned white cabbages. There are even festivals celebrating the cabbage harvest. But there are many more kinds of cabbages in my mother country, and interestingly enough they have different names and sometimes even flavors from those over here. The green cabbage here would probably still count as white cabbage over there. But German “green cabbage” isn’t even to be found over here in Western Washington. At least I haven’t found it so far. There is kale – Germans sometimes think it’s the same as Gruenkohl (pronounce: ‘groon-coal, meaning green cabbage), but it consists of separate leaves here, whereas it would be a head over there, and American kale tastes like kohlrabi greens, not like Gruenkohl. Savoy cabbage here is pretty much what Wirsing is over in Germany. It lends itself marvelously for cabbage rolls stuffed with ground meat, but it stands in its own right when prepared as a side dish. And there are a lot more kinds besides – you get the picture.
Did I say that Germans would never serve more than one kind of cabbage side with an entrée? Next time you go for a German restaurant experience, keep in mind that the combo of sauerkraut, cold (!) red cabbage and “German” potato salad is typical American. You would never serve the three alongside each other overseas, just as you don’t have a roulade on the same plate as a schnitzel or pork roast. Germans are pretty purist that way.
Now, why did I put German potato salad into inverted commas? Because there is no such thing. What is sold as “German” potato salad over here is one with mayonnaise. That is one regional variety. I come from an area where it is usually made with a mix of broth and vinaigrette, eaten lukewarm. My mother made hers from cold jacket potatoes with a vinaigrette. Some people add bacon bits into their salads. My mother used veggies like cucumber slices or bell pepper cubes, chopped Belgian endive or chicory to add some crunch. Or cubed pickles. When we had potato salad, it served as a stand-in for a potato/starchy side as well as a salad/veggie side. We had it along with sausages, Schnitzel, or fried fish. No additional sides needed.
There are probably as many potato salad recipes in Germany as there are households. Maybe even more if you count the variety of ingredients. I use my late mother’s five different recipe variants, my mother-in-law’s recipe, and two variants on that, which are my own. And if you’d like to try something different from the boxed potato salad from your supermarket, try this link for a change: https://germangirlinamerica.com/german-style-potato-salad-recipes/ . These are recipes collected from Germans – and they might encourage you to think outside the box. There goes German potato salad for you!
Salt-water boiled peeled potatoes, jacket potatoes, potato cakes (similar to hash brown patties, but thinner and including onions), pan-fried potatoes, potato dumplings, mashed potatoes – these are equally classic German potato sides but occurring less frequently on any menu over here. If you run into them (and they are usually not called “German”) – try them! Because these are as authentic as any potato salad.
Did I serve pan-fried potato wedges and some beautifully duck-fat and wine-infused savoy cabbage as sides for a Schnitzel only the other day? Ah, cabbage and taters – so simple, so versatile, and so traditionally German!