Millions of dead German grandmothers will roll in their graves when I say this:
I don’t care for potatoes.
As an adult, I’ll tolerate them in most forms except boiled/boiled and mashed. Other than baked potatoes, where I can smother the potatoness out of them with “the works”, or a Greek style lemon potato, I’m not a fan.
I much prefer rice.
Yes, those are my ancestors you hear weeping.
As I child, I was loathe to imagine something crappier that my mother could issue as the side-dish of choice. I never understood those nut jobs who describe a “plate of fluffy, buttery, mashed potato heaven” as their ultimate comfort food. Bile. Throat. Rising. Blech.
There is, however, one preparation of the humble spud that I have always adored. It is the stuff of my personal comfort food fantasies. I would BEG my mother to make it at Christmas/Thanksgiving.
(Yes, I just heard all the non-German speakers utter “WTF?” when they tried to pronounce that. The alternative name is even better for non-Germans to try to swing at: Klöße. No, that is not a B after the umlaut.)
So, you’re saying to yourself: “Dear Lard, Woman. What the HELL is that? ”
Majesty and carbohydrates.
Kartoffel = potato. Knödel = dumpling. A very simple, boiled potato dumpling.
There are so many regional variations on the lowly knödel, that you’ll never see any two recipes that look the same. I was previously warned by my mother that if I’m in Germany, I should NOT expect to get what she/my Oma/I make at home, because it’s not the classy, well-heeled sort of dumpling that is served in restaurants or by people who had cash. Those recipes contain mashed potatoes, parsley, semolina etc. The ones that have been passed on to me are an Eastern German, raw potato dough based knödel, and have more in common with Czech and Polish variants.
My knödels contain only three simple ingredients: finely grated raw potato, white flour, salt. They are formed into balls, and boiled in salted water until rubbery and firm. This is all. There is no more steps or contents.
However, to make them the traditional way is a gigantic pain in the ass.
The part of the grater (reibeisen) needed to obtain the fine, fine puree is often on the narrow side of the tool. To derrive the necessary amount of potato mush to make dumplings, you have to grate a lot of ‘taters. Not only is this hard on the wrists, but someone always ends up flaying themselves on the sharp edges, and ends up bound like those of a sad individual who failed their suicide attempt via wrist slashing. It. Takes. Forever.
Over the years, my mother experimented with the food processor, but it never generated the consistency that was needed to make what we wanted. Ergo, we always grate by hand. Ergo, the damn things are usually only trotted out for very special occasions, and mostly by my Oma, who makes them the size of a baseball. (My mother and I prefer to make them golf ball sized.)
This year, I beat the system. I found the perfect way to process the little buggers.
With a juicer.
See, a juicer has an extremely fast blade, which operates under centrifugal force, which causes the water/juices to be extracted in their entirety, and only a fine pulp to be left behind.
This is EXACTLY what you need when making knödels. In the traditional prep, you’d have to strain the potato juice prior to mixing in the flour to form the dumpling. This takes forever.
Not with a juicer. You peel the potato. You push it into the machine. Out flies potato juice (which can be used as a thickening agent in other dishes) and lovely, lovely, snow-white pulp.
No mess. No bleed outs. No waiting.
I’m not sure if anyone, other than my mother, grandmother, aunts and she-cousins can actually appreciate this, but I felt the spirit move me to document this one moment of winning at German food.
Natasha, our lovely spokeswomen, demonstrates the set up: peeled baker potato, juicer, juice catching implement.
Insert the raw spud into the warmed up juicer.
The juice of four potatoes. They are very, very watery. I processed a total of 12 to obtain the quantity I needed for Thanksgiving dinner and leftovers for four people.
The extracted water also contains an inch of potato starch, which feels/looks like cornstarch when mixed with water or “Magic Mud.”
This is waste by-product. Unless you are thickening a soup/gravy, dump it.
This is the finely grated/pulped potato that we’re using to make the dumpling with. Look how lovely and firm the raw potato mush is!
Salt to taste, and mix with all purpose flour. If you use whole wheat, it’s a fail. I used about 1 cup per 12 baking potatoes.
While all of this was going on, lightly salted water is brought to a rolling boil. When it’s rolling, you can add the little balls of nom to the pot, stirring each gently with a slotted spoon so that they do not stick to the pot or each other. Sticking, disintegrating & burning are frowned upon.
This camera is not great, nor am I a food photographer. However at this point, about 15 – 20 minutes has elapsed, and my dumplings are rubbery and firm. These ones are white, but grey is also an acceptable permutation.
Yes, I allow my four year old to put her face near hot stoves and pots of boiling water under the supervision of adults.
However, she will be able to cook a complex meal for many by the time she’s in junior high, so bite me, haters.
Learning to cook alongside your parents/elders is important, especially to people who a) are foodies and/or b) trying to preserve culture.
I am a second generation Canadian on my mother’s side of the family. Ditto for my husband, whose lineage is from the same Eastern European hodgepodge. (My late MIL was also a fantastic cooker of German/Ukranian food.)
My children will not have grown up with the language in the home like I did, nor the direct contact with the grandparents from the Old Country.
It will disappear if not cultivated.
At last, a perfect and wonderfully made dumpling, which was subsequently smothered in turkey gravy and a smidge of homemade cranberry sauce.