One thing (amongst others …) I like about blogging is that it teaches me so much about other cultures and how people live in other countries. Given the blogs I read, it does so with a heavy bias towards food, but seriously: Who has something against that?
To have my fair share in this, I want to contribute some of the (more or less) traditional recipes I know from home – I say “more or less” because I may alter them a little to make them healthier or adjust them to my taste.
Some of you know already that I am from Germany originally, and when I moved to Germany, I noticed that many traditional dishes that are usually eaten with kale up there are eaten with sauerkraut over here. (I recently learned from my neighbor that in the middle of Germany, people eat both.) You can say that Northern Germany is somewhat “kale country” (it is also “licorice country”, by the way), what manifests in the unhappy fact that it is almost impossible to get kale in the southern parts of the country. But when I visited my parents around Christmas last year, we made German-style stewed kale.
German cuisine is often said to be rather hearty, and this is true. There is meat in quite a lot of traditional dishes, often accompanied by potatoes and rustic vegetables, and then there is an amazing variety of breads and sausages.
Northern Germans, especially, also have a bit of a sweet tooth, and I remember when my mom made stewed kale with smoked sausages and small potatoes, my Dad used to put sugar on his kale.
You will also find quite a lot of dishes that combine sweet and savory flavors, one of them being this.
This is a typical Northern German dish called “Birnen, Bohnen und Speck” (“beans, pears, and bacon”) thanks to its main ingredients, and it is one of my Dad’s favorites. Next to the three main ingredients, you have quite a lot of freedom in how to make this dish. Sometimes, potatoes are added or served with it. The pears can be whole or in pieces. The dish can be more like a soup, or like a stew, or like a dish that is served on a plate without much liquid. Some impressions from a quick Google picture search show this flexibility in preparation, starting with a very puristic and beautiful version of the dish.
This example probably has potatoes of a mealy kind that are used to bind the soup and make it more like a stew.
This looks like a gourmet version that has roasted duck breast in addition to bacon.
And here is mine.
Why did I make bean, pears, and bacon soup although I am neither a fan of pears nor bacon? Well, the reason is that the pear tree in the garden yielded quite a lot of fruit in this rich harvest year, and I got some.
I do not like pears too much because I have issues with their grainy texture, but I thought that when I cook them, it might be something else. And I did not use that blubbery back bacon, just a little raw ham. This can be replaced with smoked tofu if you want to make a vegan version of this. The beans I used were of that long, flat kind, but as you see, any kind of green beans works for this. Finally, I used arrowroot starch for binding the soup a little.
To my surprise, I really liked this. The pears gave a nice sweetness to the soup which wonderfully combined with the smokey flavor from the ham. It was light, warming, and easy to make. Be careful with the salt because the ham is quite salty already, so probably season with salt in the end after tasting it.
BEAN, PEAR, AND BACON SOUP (“BIRNEN, BOHNEN UND SPECK”)
butter or oil
2 onions, peeled and chopped
1 g (3 1/2 oz) bacon (or ham, or smoked tofu), cut into small cubes
500 g (1 lb) green beans, ends removed and cut into pieces
2 pears, cut into pieces
500 ml (2 cups) water
salt to taste
pepper to taste
1 tsp dried savory (or thyme)
1 tsp arrowroot starch (or other starch)
In a large pot, heat some fat and sauté onions and ham. Add the beans and pears and two cups of water. Bring to boil, then reduce the heat to low and cook covered for around 20 minutes until the beans and pears are soft. Season with salt, pepper, and savory. Finally, mix the arrowroot starch with a little water in a bowl until everything is well combined, then heat up the soup again and pour the mixture into the soup while constantly stirring until the soup thickens. Serve and enjoy.
What is a traditional dish you know from home?