Now is this magic time of year here in Northern Germany. We just had the first night frost. And this is obviously a time to rejoice for Northern Germans. Because after the first night frost, we are allowed to eat Grünkohl. Grünkohl is known as kale in other parts of the world and it is a superfood. We affectionately call kale the “palmtree of the north” and we of course know that kale only really becomes a superfood after the first frost. If you eat kale before the first frost, that’s almost a heresy, well at least people give you weird looks. Kale is serious business here, so in the city of Oldenburg (we have two Oldenburgs in Northern Germany, I’m talking about what is referred to as Oldenburg in Oldenburg, which is near the North Sea and not Oldenburg in Holstein, which is close to the Baltic Sea) they crown the Grünkohlkönig (Kale King) every year - and they even crowned some Grünkohlköniginnen in the recent years, among them Angela Merkel.
I guess by now you must be thinking: “what’s so special about kale, isn’t that this superfood from California all the thin people on Insta talk about?” - well, no, of course not. Grünkohl is a different take on this superfood. Here’s my recipe, which is a blatant cross-over of different Northern German varations of Grünkohl. By the way, did you know that Grünkohl (green cabbage) is called Braunkohl (brown cabbage) in the area of Brunswick in Eastern Lower Saxony?
I chop one big onion and throw it into a huge pot along with a big helping of Schmalz (glorious pork lard) and then I add small chunks of bacon to it. Yes. bacon, onion and fat, that’s the basis. After a while I toss 1 kg of kale onto it (they sell kale in 1kg bags here at the farmers market) and after another while, when the kale is nice and mushy, I add salt, pepper, sugar and mustard and a cup of vegetable broth. And then I add a few slices of Kassler (smoked pork) and a couple of sausages. What kind of sausages? Well, that depends. We call them Kohlwurst (cabbage sausage) here, or sometimes just Kochwurst (cooking sausage, isn’t German brilliant in just connecting words to create new words?), which is a simple smoked pork sausage. We also like to use Bregenwurst (bregen is Northern German vernacular for brain, but much to the dismay of the butcher who sold me the sausage today, brain is no longer allowed in the sausage, so it is essentially just a Kohlwurst with some different spices and no brain, much to the relief of my wife, but I kinda miss the excitement…). I was unable to get Pinkel today at the market, as this is something which has a strong tradition in Bremen and since Hamburg and Bremen have this old traditional rivalry, they don’t sell Pinkel at too many places here. Pinkel is also a sausage and the direct translation would mean “pee”, but it’s actually a really nice sausage with some grits in there and the word Pinkel probably means something totally different in Northern German vernacular, Bremen style. While I let this stuff simmer for a while (45 minutes or so), I take one kilo of small potatoes and cook them along with some salt and some caraway seeds. Then I peel the potatoes, that’s why they are called Pellkartoffeln (peel potatoes, isn’t German great?). Now I take a pan and lots of Butterschmalz (clarified butter, so in essence lots of nice fat, but again, German is a beautiful language, isn’t it?) and toss the potatoes in there until they are nice and brown. Now I add a good helping of sugar to coat the potatoes and let them have a nice caramelized crust. By now the Grünkohl should be done, so I usually add some oats to soak up the fluids a bit. That’s it. That’s real Northern German superfood. Also, make sure to drink some beer while eating Grünkohl and have a shot of chilled caraway Schnaps afterwards. Happy digesting!
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