A zesty serving of German Style Sauerkraut is a healthy side dish to liven up your meal. We love it with sausages, ham, and roasted or barbecued meats of any kind. (Skip to recipe.)
I've just come back from a week at the coast - the 'Lower Mainland' as it's commonly called. This is the area of British Columbia comprised of Vancouver and it's surrounding cities and communities. What a great place to be when we're socked deep into winter here in northern Alberta.
Going to the coast is always bittersweet for me - it stirs up pangs of yearning and a touch of nostalgia for my childhood. I was born in New Westminster, and spent much of my childhood there, living in Aldergrove and Chilliwack until I was 10 years old. Even though I consider myself an Albertan, since I've spent most of my life here, my roots are in B.C. I have lots of uncles, aunts, and cousins at the coast, so visiting there is always a fun-filled family time. Several of my relatives are chicken farmers, and they have beautiful rural properties - storybook farms.
My uncle Adolf and Aunt Alice have an ancient cedar forest on their property, and walking amidst the ferns and moss covered logs, with the creek rustling in the background, is a little taste of paradise.
I kept thinking of the snowy fields back home in Alberta and felt a teeny bit sorry for everyone there - but I got over it quickly.
It rained most of the whole week that I was there (I saw the sun once for about 10 minutes), but the beautiful green everywhere was worth it. My aunt and uncle were still eating kale and parsnips from their garden, and I saw crocuses and snow drops blooming already.
I got to go into Vancouver to watch the spectacular Shen Yun performance at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. What a magical extravaganza of Chinese song and dance! But I spent most of my time in the countryside, visiting family, and it was wonderful. My mom flew down from Prince George to meet me there. My relatives are all fun-loving and full of life - we had lots of laughs, good food, good wine, and made great memories.
Whenever I get together with my relatives, I feel grounded and connected to my past - it gives me a better sense of who I am. We share the same history. These aunts, uncles, and cousins have known me since I said my first words, was running around shirtless as a toddler, and when I was a gawky, pimply teenager. They love me anyways. That is a good feeling.
As all good German families do, we love to eat when we get together.
Laden tables full of lip-smacking dishes and laughing relatives were the entertainment and nourishment every evening during my visit. At one of them, my Auntie Irma made her famous sauerkraut and smoked turkey legs.
Cooking together and sharing food is what unites us. My mom and her sister were taught to cook by their mother, but over the years their paths separated and they picked up influences from different sources. My aunt makes her sauerkraut a little differently than my mom does - she adds apple and grates in a potato. They both like to put in caraway seeds, but sometimes they leave them out. If they have them, they add juniper berries. My mom occasionally likes to add a bit of chili pepper to hers. Sometimes they cook the sauerkraut with sausages, sometimes with a smoked pork hock. However they make it, their sauerkraut is always good. Every German woman has her own way to make this tasty dish. I'm lucky to have learned to cook from my mom and all these great women.
And of course, when the cooking is finished, there's always time to celebrate with a drop of good German beer!
For me, sauerkraut is like a comfort food - I crave its tangy zip. Although, when I was pregnant with our first child, that craving got a little out of hand once, and I did eat a whole quart of sauerkraut in one sitting, forking it right out of the jar. I won't ever do that again!
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Kitchen Frau Notes: My family uses either homemade sauerkraut (that my mom makes for all her siblings and children) or the mild German wine sauerkraut usually found in European import shops or delicatessens. If you can't get that, use regular jarred or canned sauerkraut, which is more sour, and drain it well, then add a splash of water for liquid while cooking.
Instead of the bacon, you can use a handful of chopped ham plus a tablespoon of oil to saute it in. Or make the sauerkraut without meat, just use a bit of oil to saute the onions and apples. It's still delicious that way, too!
My Auntie Irma grates in a potato - this helps to thicken and absorb some of the extra juice and you don't even taste the potato. That's a new trick I learned on this visit.
Some people like to rinse their sauerkraut, but I think that rinses away too much flavour. The point of sauerkraut is that it is sour. However, if you are new to eating sauerkraut, or are feeding people that aren't sure if they like it, then rinsing it before using it is a good way to make it milder and get used to its flavour.
German Style Sauerkraut
- 2 to 3 slices lean bacon
- 1 small onion
- 1 small apple (or ½ of a large one)
- 1 bay leaf
- ½ teaspoon caraway seeds (optional)
- 3 to 4 juniper berries (optional)
- 400 - 500 grams (1 lb) mild sauerkraut [1 can (396 ml/28 oz.) or bag (500gm) of mild sauerkraut, or 3 to 4 cups]
- 1 medium potato (optional)
Cut the bacon slices crosswise into ½ inch (1cm) pieces. Finely dice the onion, and peel, core, and dice the apple (about ½ inch pieces). Heat a large heavy-bottomed saucepan or small Dutch oven over medium heat.
Sauté the bacon until the pieces are almost crisp, then add the diced onion and apple. Cook for 2 to 3 more minutes until the onion is translucent. Add the bay leaf. Sprinkle on the caraway seeds and juniper berries, if using either one or both of them
Dump the sauerkraut with its juices into the pan (unless you have strong sauerkraut, then drain it, and add about ¼ cup water to it). Grate in the potato and stir to combine everything.
There should be enough liquid in the sauerkraut to cover the bottom of the pot by about ¼ inch. If not, add a bit of water. Bring the sauerkraut to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover the saucepan, and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes to allow the flavours to develop. Remove the bay leaf and juniper berries before serving.
Serves 4 to 6. (Makes about 4 cups)
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