I’ve mentioned before, part of my ancestry hails from the South of Germany, from the area around Stuttgart and Ludwigsburg.
I am no fan of the famous Swabian grumpiness and their inclination to be somewhat secluded and indifferent to new people. Curiously, when you travel abroad and run into Germans, the likelihood that those Germans happen to be from Swabia is ridiculously high. While I never enjoyed living in Swabia (I had to, my then-boyfriend, now-husband moved there for work and I spent a lot of my childhood visiting my grandparents), I always craved soft pretzels and all other goodies whenever I would go away.
Swabians, however, are by far (in my humble opinion) the best cooks in Germany. They are good at everything from baking to cooking – except maybe at making light, healthier dishes. The quality of bread and baked goods in Swabia is beyond excellent, one of a kind. You could play a game called “name a delicious dish from any country” and I guarantee they will present you with a really rich and incredibly flavorful Swabian version. My grandmother once gave my father a book with traditional Swabian recipes. While living abroad, we probably cooked all the recipes this book had to offer.
I am sure you know a lot of Swabian dishes without being aware that they are originally from Swabia, but examples are dumpling (made out of potatoes and/or bread), spätzle (homemade noodles) and – of course! – soft pretzels! I figure the most artisanal and popular dish is the Swabian potato salad. There are probably as many recipes for Swabian potato salad as there are Swabian families.
My recipe is based on my paternal grandmother’s method, and it is a homage to one of my family’s favorite place to eat out in “Schwabenland”, Café Wolf in Poppenweiler. (Just a warning for you sqeamish people out there, the remainder of this paragraphs talks about people eating chicken, you may want to skip it if it will make you angry and/or sad) In his youth, my dad had a friend in Poppenweiler, and they would eat at Café Wolf, which was famous for its roasted chicken and homemade buns. The chicken’s skin was treated with an old and secret recipe containing paprika, which had been in the family for generations. The skin was so delicious and crunchy, the chicken’s flesh soft and juicy. The buns were always fresh out of the oven, crunchy on the outside and yeasty on the inside. Every half chicken would be served with a small salad variation (potato salad, cucumber salad, green salad, carrot salad, white cabbage salad). Nowhere in the world were we able to find chickens as delicious as these and while we lived abroad, a visit to Café Wolf was always the highlight of our visits to Germany.
As a kid, I loved eating all these things. When I opted for a vegetarian diet, I would indulge in a gigantic salad plate and potato croquettes. The large salad plate also included a delicious potato salad, and for as long as I can remember my grandmother tried to replicate the recipe in her home, never succeeding. My grandmother was always able to cook everything she put her mind to, so you can only imagine how much it irked her that she was unable to find out what made their potato salad so good! Sadly, Café Wolf closed its doors last year after the owners retired and their children showed no interest in continuing the generation-long family tradition of serving the best chicken known to man. My mother and I often thought that the owners would sell their concept to a fast food chain, or expand somehow, but luckily for all chickens everywhere and for the quality of their dishes, the owners remained humble and kept Café Wolf in its original environment throughout its existence.
Later, when I would visit Café Wolf with my husband (only to buy their salad plate and potato croquettes), I attempted to replicate the recipe, too. I’ve also failed, but come up with a pretty good version, which I really enjoy. I think it’s the best potato salad in the world, I love the play of butter and olive oil with the potatoes and the chopped herbs! But, being a traditional Swabian dish, it is pretty rich and definitely heavy!
Some advice: I always use types of potatoes that don’t boil into a crumble or mush, but which remain firm when cooked and which truly taste of potato. This means a better texture and a nicer, deeper flavour for the salad. This recipe is not vegan, but you can easily make it so by either skipping the butter or adding margarine instead.
750g potatoes (in their skins), boiled al dente
1 large onion (or spring onions, if you have them)
1 generous chunk of butter (around 40g or more – for a vegan option, substitute with margarine)
100 ml gluten-free vegetable broth (I use Knorr’s Delikatessbrühe, and I use quite a bit of the broth power: the broth you require should be very, very salty)
white balsamic vinegar
parsley, chives (chopped, about 2 tbsp each)
salt and pepper to taste
Wash the potatoes and boil them (in their skins) until they are cooked al dente. I usually take out one potato, cut it in half and taste one of the middle parts. Drain the potatoes and let cool completely.
Then comes the labour intensive part: peeling the potatoes, cutting them in quarters and then into thin slices.
Chop the onion – or cut it into thin sliceds for a prettier look – and put it in a pot with the butter, allowing the onions to simmer for about five minutes.
Add the vegetable broth and allow the mixture to cook for a couple of minutes. I do this to make the onions more agreeable and to give the potato salad a smoother flavor. Pour the broth and onions over the potatoes. Add the chives, and the parsley. Add olive oil and the white balsamic vinegar. Mix well.
You can serve this salad while it is still warm, but I also suggest letting it sit around for several hours prior to eating. This way, the flavor from the dressing will be absorbed by the potatoes, resulting in a deeper taste. I find that refrigerating this salad overnight ruins its frothy and smooth texture, so I just keep it in a closed Tupperware on my kitchen counter. If I know I won’t eat the salad for another two days, then I do refrigerate, take it out of the fridge approximately an hour prior to eating so that the salad will be at room temperature when I do. Before eating, I usually also add a few tablespoons of warm broth to create a bit of a smoother texture.
You can make infinite variations of this salad, including adding any vegetable (or mix of vegetables) that you like eating or eating this salad warm. In winter, we usually eat it along with fried vegetarian sausages and some sauerkraut. In summer, this salad is a staple for grill parties, where we also eat it with sausages – and lots of other grilled vegetables or salad.
You can also make this salad with small potatoes in their skin. In this case, wash the potatoes really well and boil them. After draining the potatoes, cut them into halves or even quarters and proceed from there. I find that this type of salad tastes best with other vegetables e.g. halved cherry tomatoes, thick slices of grilled zucchini, perhaps some salad leaves. I had a similar salad last year at a birthday party, the salad was garnished with nasturtium flowers from the host’s balcony. I loved the idea of decorating my salads with flowers from my terrace so much, that this year I have planted my own nastur
tium. (And yes, that’s a small pumpkin plant next to it: I am attempting to grow my own vegetables this year, it’s going great so far! Everything – two types of zucchini, tomatoes, pumpkins, basil and summer savory has sprouted and is growing really well, except the parsley which is refusing to cooperate; I may have to re-plant that one.)