I just got back from a brief holiday in Germany and boy, was it cold. Rainy and cold. Brrrrr. Thankfully, I had lots of hearty meals to help buffer me against the chilly weather. I bet you're wondering what hearty vegetarian meals are to be had in the land of (more than) a thousand wursts. Well, there was the beer and brezels (pretzels), of course. Heh. But really, that's not all I had.
One of my favourite meals on the trip was a dinner of dumplings at Wirtshaus in der Au, a warm and cosy restaurant in Munich which my friend Suha and her husband Frank took me and my husband to. I ordered the tomato and olive dumplings stuffed with Mozzarella and served with a tomato-based sauce with marinated eggplant - they were just superb. So full of flavour and really filling. It's hard to believe how satisfying to the core dumplings can be. My husband and Frank ordered the Bavarian duck served with red cabbage (oh, so delicious) and potato dumpling and Suha had the Spinatknoedel (spinach dumplings).
The dumplings, or semmelknoedel, are a Bavarian speciality made with a "dough" comprising mainly of day-old bread or brezel/buns, onions, egg, herbs and spices. The knoedels, shaped into balls slightly smaller than the size of a tennis ball, are sometimes stuffed (with cheese or meat primarily) or enhanced (like the tomato one I had or the spinach dumpling my friend had) before they are boiled in salted water.
I liked them so much that I tried my hand at them the day I returned (I didn't give myself time to procrastinate!).
To be honest, although I loved the taste of the knoedel, the idea of boiling the dumplings sounded quite unappealing. Boiled bread? Really?
I was also worried that the dumplings would fall apart in the water. In fact, the first one I put in - a test dumpling - actually did unravel a bit in the simmering water.
To stop the knoedel from unraveling, I adjusted the consistency of the "dough" by adding just a little more bread (breadcrumbs would do fine too I reckon). It worked. Also, I learnt that it helps if you roll the dumplings with wet hands. And, make sure the water in which you cook it in isn't boiling violently. It should just be simmering. Boiling water will rock even the firmest dumpling and cause it to come apart.
The dumplings should be cooked in simmering water for about 15-20 minutes, depending on how big you make them. A boiled knoedel isn't all that pretty and, straight out of the pot, they are a little soft on the outside. Leaving them to cool for a few minutes before serving will help firm them up a little.
Here's what I did. Traditionally, leftover knoedel are cooked in some butter the day after. I decided to gently brown mine in butter straight out of the pan - just for a minute or so, to give them colour. Yeah, its strange how I have a problem with the pale, soft, boiled dumplings. I have hang ups, what can I say.
The dumplings tasted great! I based my knoedel on a recipe I found on saveur.com but I added a little spinach in them and replaced the nutmeg with caraway. I also cooked a simple mushroom cream sauce to go with the dumplings. My husband usually detests mushrooms but he wolfed down a couple of dumplings within a minute. Success? Yeah, I'll say.
Semmelknoedel (Bavarian bread dumplings) with Spinach
1 medium onion, minced
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp chopped parsley
1 tbsp chopped thyme
1 cup milk
salt and pepper to taste
For the sauce
2 cups mushrooms (mixed), sliced
1 small onion, minced
1/4 cup cream
1/4 cup milk
1 tbsp cider/white wine
a knob of butter
salt and pepper to taste
To make the dumplings, lightly toast the bread and roughly break them into a large bowl.
Heat the oil in a pan and cook the onions until soft and lightly brown. Add the onions in with the bread.
Heat the milk until it starts to boil and then pour 3/4 of the milk into the bowl with the bread and onions. Leave the milk to seep into the bread for a few minutes.
Add the rest of the ingredients and mix will to form a dough. The dough should be soft and moist but firm enough to form balls (which is why you don't add all the milk in at once). If it's too dry, add more milk. If it's too wet to form firm balls, add a little more bread or breadcrumbs.
Wet your hands and roll the dough into balls: mine were slightly bigger than a golf ball.
Place a pot of salted water to boil. Once the water comes to a rolling boil, reduce the heat so it simmers. Add the balls into the water with a slotted spoon and cook for about 15-20 mins. They should rise to the top after about 7 mins or so but let them cook for at least 15 mins.
Remove and drain.
Optional: Once drained, heat some butter in a skillet and gently toast the dumplings in the butter for a couple of minutes until lightly brown.
For the sauce
Heat the butter in a saucepan. Add the minced onions and cook till soft and translucent. Add the mushrooms and cook till slightly brown (make sure the mushrooms all touch the hot surface of the pan and are not piled in a heap - this will make them get soggy and prevent them from browning nicely). Reduce the heat and add the cream and milk. Stir. Add the cider and then season. Remove when the sauce reaches the consistency you desire.