International Cooking: Food from Germany

Germany is located in Central Europe, and it’s the second-most populous country in Europe after Russia.

Parts of Germany were inhabited by Germanic tribes as far back as 100 AD. In 962 the Kingdom of Germany made up most of the Holy Roman Empire – something I did not realize.

Germany was involved in both World War I and World War II, with the latter stemming from Nazis seizing power in the country in 1933. After World War II and a few years where Germany was occupied by Allied forces, the country was split in two: there was the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) and the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). Eventually, communist-led East Germany fell and soon those parts of the country were reunified with the rest to become the federal parliamentary republic it is today.

Germany has the largest economy in Europe, and is the world’s third-largest exporter and importer. Germans enjoy social security, universal healthcare, and tuition-free university education.

I have to say that Germany was by far the most vocal country when it came to talking about their food (and to be fair, I guess there are a lot of people living there). I posted in the German subreddit, asking what I should make, and the next morning I had nearly 200 responses. That’s the most I’ve ever had by far!

What Do People Eat in Germany?

The cuisine of Germany is highly regional, but some things seem popular all across the country: sausages, beer, potatoes, cabbage, and bread of all kinds, to name a few.

Germany cuisine shares similarities with nearby countries such as Poland and Czechia, and regions in Southern Germany such as Bavaria and Swabia have some dishes which are very similar to those found in Austria and Switzerland.

Meat is popular throughout the country, with pork, poultry, and beef most commonly consumed. Usually, meat is braised; although there are fried dishes, they are usually based on French or Austrian recipes. Germany has a long tradition of sausage-making and makes over 1500 types!

Seafood was traditionally only widely consumed in the northern coastal areas, except for pickled herring which were more widespread. Today, a wide range of fish is enjoyed across the country (though not as popular as meat!)

Vegetables such as carrots, onions, cauliflower, turnips, spinach, peas, beans, broccoli, and a variety of cabbage are very common. They may be used in stews or soups, or as a side dish. Cabbage, of course, is used to make sauerkraut, a popular fermented cabbage dish. Fried onions are a common part of many meals, and are included in two of the dishes I made this week.

German dishes are rarely hot and spicy, with the exception of mustard, often eaten with sausages. Instead, a range of herbs and spices are used to flavor food, with some of the more popular including parsley, thyme, bay leaves, chives, juniper berries, nutmeg, and caraway.

One popular dish I wanted to make but ultimately decided not to is sauerbraten, one of Germany’s national dishes. It’s made by marinating a beef roast in an acidic marinade for a few days (sometimes longer) before cooking, which results in a sour taste. It’s still something I would like to try one day.

Germans will often enjoy coffee and cake when socializing, so Germany has a wide range of desserts and cakes. I would love to try them some day, but I usually find it hard to fit things like that in. At the top of my list is the prinzregententorte – a Bavarian torte made by layering six or seven thin sponge cakes with chocolate buttercream and covering the whole thing in chocolate glaze.

Something I found interesting is that doner kebabs are a very popular fast food item in Germany, to the point where some people thought I should make them instead of currywurst. It turns out that although doner kebabs did seem to originate in Turkey, they were made popular in Berlin by Turkish immigrants and now some Germans want to claim them as their own!

What I Made

Käsespätzle (Egg Noodles with Cheese and Onion)

Käsespätzle (Egg Noodles with Cheese and Onion)

This is a dish featuring spätzle, a type of egg noodle popular in Germany which I wanted to make at least once. It’s topped with cheese and then baked, before being topped with fried onion. I’m sure there are variations on the exact topping depending on where you are in Germany.

For the spätzle, I made a batter-like dough out of flour, salt, eggs, milk, and a little nutmeg. I was instructed to mix it in an electric mixer for 16-20 minutes which is a long time. The recipe said the dough would be ready when air bubbles began forming on the surface.

At this point, I brought some water to a boil and started pushing the dough through a colander directly into the water. A spätzle maker is ideal, but a colander is meant to be a decent substitute.

However, although I got some pretty good spätzle at first, the colander was quickly getting blocked and I think the dough was starting to cook from sitting above the boiling water. I also think my dough needed to be a little thinner, and then it would have gone through the colander better. It was also super, super sticky and elastic, which I felt made it hard to work with, so I couldn’t try making any spätzle by hand.

So, I did manage to get enough for one serving (I halved the recipe so I was meant to get more than that) which was something. I ended up microwaving to melt the cheese instead of baking since I had such a piddly amount of noodles. The recipe advised a mix of Emmentaler and Gruyere cheese, but I just used Gruyere because I couldn’t get the former. I topped with some fried onions and sprinkled with chives.

The end result was delicious but I’d make sure I have a spätzle maker before trying this again! It’s also possible I need to do more research on what the consistency of the dough should be like, since no recipe can give perfect amounts for something like this.

If you’d like to try this, I used a recipe from Craft Beering.

Toast Hawaii (Toast with Ham, Pineapple, and Cheese)

When I started getting Reddit responses telling me to make ‘Toast Hawaii’, I was skeptical and wondered if it was some kind of joke. But no, apparently this is a fairly common meal or snack that can be prepared quickly when you’re low on time. It’s literally just a piece of toast topped with ham, a pineapple slice, and cheese. The recipe I was following (though really, it’s not necessary for this) said to bake in the oven to melt the cheese, but I would broil next time.

This made a great light lunch! It was of course super easy to make and anyone who likes Hawaiian pizza would enjoy it. I may have gone a bit fancier on the cheese than is typical, since I used Gruyere rather than cheddar which is what the recipe used. You can also add a maraschino cherry in the pineapple hole, or top with a little cranberry jelly.

If you do want a recipe, I was looking at this one from Recipes from Europe.

Brezeln (Soft Pretzels)

Brezeln (Soft Pretzels)

I already knew before even starting this challenge that I was going to make pretzels for Germany. I’ve eaten them in German restaurants a few times but only attempted them once before this, and they didn’t come out too well. This time, I was determined to get them right!

These were really not that difficult to make, if you are used to making bread. The dough is a mixture of water, flour, butter, salt, sugar, yeast, and baking powder. The author acknowledges that the baking powder sounds weird, but it does seem to work! I would still like to try without, maybe with a little extra yeast, just to see what happens.

I think one important part of getting these right is the shaping. You need to remember that the pretzels will expand so they should look a bit skinny and sad when you first shape them. If you make them into perfect pretzel shapes they’ll lose their holes after baking and will look less pretzel-like (though they’ll still taste good!)

After shaping, I dipped the pretzels in a mixture of hot water and baking soda for about 6 of 7 seconds each (I was aiming for the middle of the 5-10 second range given in the recipe). I’m guessing that if you leave them in too long they might taste too baking soda-y, or not rise properly in the oven, or both. I know my very first batch of pretzels had too much of a baking soda taste and I think I was dipping them for longer.

I should note here that pretzels are traditionally dipped in a lye solution rather than baking soda, but baking soda was easier for me.

Anyway, next I sprinkled salt over the pretzels and let them rise for about 15 minutes. I didn’t have pretzel salt but I had Maldon sea salt flakes so I used those and it worked fine.

I baked the pretzels for about 15 minutes, and then they were done. I was really pleased with how they looked! I had been thinking I would eat them with mustard, because that’s what all the German restaurants give you (at least around here in Southern California). But the recipe was from a German blogger who said that they usually just eat them with butter, and so that’s what I did. Honestly, the butter was all they needed because they were so good!

I’m definitely going to make these again. The recipe is from My German Recipes.

Currywurst (Sausage in Curry Sauce)

Currywurst (Sausage in Curry Sauce)

Currywurst is a fast food staple in Germany. The German subreddit was pretty split on whether I should make this, or doner kebabs, which are also extremely popular.

Currywurst is a simple dish consisting of a curry-flavored ketchup sauce over sliced sausage. Different regions may use different types of sausage, and the exact flavor of the sauce can vary too. The sauce I used was mostly ketchup, seasoned with curry powder, cayenne pepper, onion powder, smoked paprika, honey, Worcestershire sauce, and a tiny pinch of ground cloves. For the sausage, I used bratwurst. This is typically served with fries; I used oven fries.

As far as fast food meals go this was pretty good, and I can see why it’s popular in Germany. I think fried eggs would go really well, but I think eggs can improve just about any dish.

This recipe is from Quick German Recipes and includes a homemade ketchup, which is probably delicious but I used storebought this time.

Grünkohl und Bratwurst (Kale with Bratwurst)

Grünkohl und Bratwurst (Kale with Bratwurst)

This is a kale dish that is common in the northern parts of Germany, and it can be served with many different kinds of sausage but I chose bratwurst since it’s easy for me to get. It can also include ham, pork chops, pork belly, or bacon; I included some ham.

To make this, I blanched the kale and chopped it. Then I sautéed some bacon and onion and added the blanched kale. I seasoned with mustard, pepper, nutmeg, and a little sugar, then stirred in some oatmeal and beef stock. This mixture cooked for a while, about 40 minutes or so. Then I added my cooked bratwurst and ham and let everything simmer for another 15 minutes or so.

I served this with caramelized potatoes, as the recipe suggested. These were super easy to make. I boiled some red baby potatoes and peeled off the skin. Then I melted butter and brown sugar together in a saucepan, added the potatoes, and cooked until they were caramelized.

I don’t always like kale much but it was really good here, and the potatoes were delicious!

I had intended to make about 1/4 of the recipe (it seemed like it would be a lot) so I bought 1 bunch of kale, thinking that would be plenty. I overestimated how much that bunch weighed, however, so then I had to make 1/7th of the recipe which meant my amounts were probably a bit inaccurate! At least this did end up tasting good.

To make this, I used a recipe from The Oma Way.

Rinderrouladen with Kartoffelknödel (Beef Roulade with Potato Dumplings)

Rinderrouladen with Kartoffelknödel (Beef Roulade with Potato Dumplings)

Rinderrouladen (or beef roulade) definitely seemed one of the more popular dishes among German Redditors, and I decided to pair it with kartoffelknödel, one of many kinds of popular German dumplings. There are a variety of fillings you can put in rouladen, but I chose what seems to be the most popular version.

The rouladen were made by taking large, thinly sliced pieces of beef (I used top round), slathering them in mustard, and rolling them around onion, bacon, and dill pickles. I kept mine in shape by tying with kitchen twine, but you could also use toothpicks.

Once my rouladen were assembled, I browned them in some oil. When they were nearly all browned, I added some diced onion and red bell pepper to the pan along with some chopped pickles. A few minutes later, I added paprika and bay leaves, and enough water to come about halfway up the rouladen. Then I let the whole thing simmer, covered, for about 2 hours, adding more water every now and then as needed.

I took the rouladen out and made a flour/water mixture, which I stirred into the sauce to thicken it a bit, and then I poured that over.

This was really delicious! I followed some instructions from someone who posted in the German subreddit rather than a strict recipe and I think this worked really well.

The kartoffelknödel were made by first making plain mashed potatoes, which I left to cool in the fridge for a few hours. Meanwhile, I chopped up some stale bread in small pieces and sautéed them in butter to make little croutons. Then I mixed the mashed potato with egg, potato starch, and salt and formed large balls (the recipe said to make them the size of tennis balls but mine were a little smaller). The croutons went into the middle of each ball. I ended up with lots of leftover croutons but that was okay since they tasted pretty good on their own!

I boiled the dumplings until done, and I don’t think they were perfect but at least they held together pretty well considering this was my first attempt! They basically tasted like mashed potato, so they were great, especially when I covered them with some of the sauce from my rouladen.

Finally, I also made a simple German cucumber salad, or gurkensalat in German. It can be made with a creamy dressing, but I chose a lighter version since the rest of my meal was on the heavy side. All I had to do was slice some cucumber and mix with a dressing of white vinegar, water, sugar, salt, and dill. This was great and went really well with everything else.

Both these recipes were from Quick German Recipes: here’s the kartoffelknödel and the gurkensalat.

Jägerschnitzel (Breaded Pork with Mushroom Sauce)

Jägerschnitzel (Breaded Pork with Mushroom Sauce)

Schnitzel is popular in Germany, but unlike Austrian schnitzel, German versions are often served with a sauce. There are also no strict rules about what can be used as the meat. In Austria, wiener schnitzel must be made with veal, but German schnitzel can be made of pork, beef, veal, or even chicken (though I think pork seems to be the most common). In Germany, there are even schnitzel varieties that aren’t breaded.

I decided to make jägerschnitzel, also known as Hunter’s Schnitzel. It consists of crispy breaded pork schnitzel topped with a creamy mushroom gravy. The exact ingredients for the gravy differ from recipe to recipe; there’s usually onion, and often bacon. Wine is commonly included too.

The gravy I made started with cooking some bacon and onion. Then I stirred in sliced mushrooms, and after a few minutes I added tomato paste, paprika, beef stock, salt, and pepper. I let the mixture simmer for a few minutes and thickened it up a bit with a flour/water mixture. Then I stirred in some parsley and cream (sour cream is traditional but I used heavy cream).

This gravy was delicious, and I say this as someone who isn’t the biggest fan of mushrooms. I think the paprika played a big role in it tasting so good.

This recipe is from Quick German Recipes.

I served this with bratkartoffeln, which is just fried potatoes and onions, and krautsalat, a German coleslaw. It’s made by massaging shredded cabbage with salt, sugar, and caraway until it gets soft. Then you combine it with sautéed onion, hot water, and vinegar, and let the mixture sit in the fridge for a few hours before serving.

The krautsalat recipe is from Recipes from Europe, and it was also pretty good!

Kartoffelsalat (German Potato Salad – Two Ways!)

Kartoffelsalat (Northern Version)

Potato salad is popular across the whole country, but it is also apparently a rather divisive topic! In the north, it will normally have a creamy dressing, but in the south, vinegar is more popular. There were many arguments (all in good humor) on the German subreddit about which version was superior. So, I decided to make both! Keep in mind that these aren’t the only potato salads that exist as ingredients vary depending on who is making it, just like potato salad in other countries.

First I made a cold, creamy northern potato salad, which you can see above. The dressing was made from mayonnaise, thinned out with a little pickle juice. I also added red onion, pickles, hard-boiled eggs, and fresh dill. The recipe I followed, from Quick German Recipes, has a few suggestions for other things you could add. I thought this was really good, definitely one of the better potato salads I’ve had (and I’ve eaten a lot of potato salad).

Kartoffelsalat (Southern Version)

Next, I made a warm southern potato salad. I cooked some bacon and saved the drippings, which I used to sauté some onion. Then I stirred in some apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, salt, and pepper and brought the mixture to a simmer. I stirred in the cooked bacon and then poured everything over my warm cooked potatoes. I let everything sit for about 15 minutes, tossing every now and then, until the potatoes absorbed the dressing.

This was also quite good, but I think I prefer a creamy dressing on potato salad!

This recipe was also from Quick German Recipes.

Maultaschen (German Ravioli)

Maultaschen (German Ravioli)

This is a dish from the Swabian region in the southwest of Germany. It consists of a pasta-like dough, wrapped around a meat filling and cooked in broth, and it seems to be quite popular.

The dough is made from flour, egg, oil, salt, and just enough water so that it comes together. I think mine ended up a little dry, so I would add more water next time (because there will be a next time!)

The filling I made was a combination of ground pork, ground beef, sautéed onion, marjoram, parsley, nutmeg, egg, breadcrumbs, and milk.

I rolled out the dough into a long rectangle and put some of the mixture down the middle. Then I folded the dough around it so it was enclosed, and used a wooden spoon to divide the dough into square dumplings. This is supposed to seal the edges, but it didn’t work well for me and I think that may be because I needed more water in my dough.

However, my dumplings did stay together when I boiled them in beef broth. I served them with fried onions and garnished with parsley.

Despite their misshapen appearance, these were really good. Beef and pork always work well together, and I really liked the addition of nutmeg and marjoram, which isn’t a common seasoning combination for me but maybe it will be in the future!

I made these by following a recipe by Felicitas Then on the DW Food YouTube channel.

Final Thoughts

This was a great week! Everything was so good that it was difficult to pick favorites. However, the rinderrouladen and maultaschen might be what I enjoyed the most.

Next week, I will be cooking food from Ghana.

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