From Scratch Collection

I find German cuisine an under-the-radar treasure. As long as we live here, I will probably never bother to make my own bread, potato salad or Schnitzel, as I can walk out the door in any direction and find excellent versions of all of them. But generally, we’re not huge fans of German takes on other cuisines. I think we moved here juuust before a major influx of international culinary trends came on the scene. We started seeing interesting stuff appear, but the flavor profiles were tailored to German palates, not ours. So when we decided to create food with the flavors we craved, we examined the building blocks of those cuisines. Jarred salsa was both bland and weirdly sweet. Chicken broth powder tasted mostly like salt that saw a picture of a chicken once. And the rich tapestry of German sausage culture didn’t have anything like Jimmy Dean.

Lucky for us, a little creative googling usually turned up versions of whatever we sought to reverse engineer. These have become staples for us. I tried to only include recipes for which I don’t have to import anything. Additionally, this post contains more of my own recipes than originally planned. More dispatches from the wide world of food blogs next month!

We’re lucky enough to have family who flees the Michigan winter for the Pacific coast of Mexico, so we visit them there every couple of years. Since we’re also Mexican food fanatics, and Germany’s Mexican food scene is pretty bleak, cobbling together a Mexican repertoire was a must, and a good, basic table salsa is foundational. I immersed myself in Rick Bayless’ cookbooks, took pointers from a cooking class we participated in on our last trip and used the technique from Budget Bytes to produce this salsa.

The recipe is more difficult to explain than to do. Our cooking instructor said that raw salsas are lazy salsas, so this one’s cooked. It probably takes about the same amount of time, since you’re not chopping things finely, instead letting your food processing tool of choice do that job. You should look for the ripest tomatoes possible, but because they’re roasted and the sugars and juices concentrated, you can get away with lackluster specimens.

10-12 ripe tomatoes, halved lengthwise and cored (San Marzano ideally, Roma works well)
1 small white onion, peeled and halved
1-2 hot green chilies, halved lengthwise (ideally Jalapeño or Serrano, remove seeds and membranes if you don’t want it spicy)
1-2 cloves garlic, quartered
3-4 T fresh cilantro leaves
juice of 2 limes

Rimmed baking sheets
Blender, immersion blender or food processor

Heat oven to 400°F/200°C. Arrange tomato halves cut side up on one baking sheet and sprinkle with salt. Roast for 30-40 minutes, or until tomatoes look collapsed and blackened in spots. Set aside to cool a little and place onion and chilies* on a smaller baking sheet. Roast for 20-30 minutes; the chilies will blacken quickly and probably need to be removed well before the onion, so check the progress from time to time. Once onion is tender and blackened in spots, remove from oven and set aside to cool. Set up your blender or food processor and add tomatoes (with skins – that’s where the smoky flavor is), onion, chilies, garlic, cilantro and lime juice. Start with a couple of 3-finger pinches of salt and about a 1/4 teaspoon of ground cumin. Process at medium speed until uniform, then taste and adjust flavors. It’s a good idea to keep a couple of extra limes on hand, just in case it needs more acid, or a pinch of sugar if your tomatoes aren’t adequately sweet. If you plan on eating the salsa with salted tortilla chips, be sure to try it with the chips, to balance the salt against them. Ideally, refrigerate salsa for at least a couple of hours.

*Jalapeño and Serrano chilies are fleshy and benefit from a bit of roasting. That said, they can be hard to find in Germany. My standard green chili is the small variety I get from the Asian market and it burns to a crisp in the oven. If you’re using a thin-skinned chili like this, don’t bother roasting, just chop it into a few pieces and add it raw.

Chicken Broth
In the US, decently stocked grocery stores generally sell good quality, low sodium chicken broth. In Germany, it’s mostly a choice between salty-ass Knorr and Maggi powders or gelatinous concentrates. This annoys me, as chicken broth is often the backbone of my culinary activities. Making soup? You need chicken broth. Risotto? Get the chicken broth. Casserole? Better add some chicken broth. It should taste like something other than salt.

You can make as much as your pots and fridge can accommodate; I like to make a lot in one go. A single 8-liter pot usually yields 3-4 liters of broth, which I freeze in different size containers and use over the course of months. This is less a precise recipe and more a method for a decent broth. I keep mine very neutral in order to broaden application, but you should definitely experiment with flavors you love. I like using the skin and bones from rotisserie chicken, separating the meat to use in other applications. Several recipes out there call for roasting the bones and vegetables a bit before putting it all in the pot for a more complex flavor.

1 chicken carcass, skin and bones, meat picked clean
1 large onion, halved, root end discarded
1 clove garlic, lightly crushed with side of knife
2 carrots, peeled and cut into 3 pieces each
3 stalks celery, cut into 3 pieces each
1 small bunch fresh parsley
5-6 sprigs fresh thyme
2 T salt
8 whole peppercorns
1 t Brathähnchengewürz (German roasted chicken seasoning, optional)

Large deep pot
Mixing bowls, optimally one with a spout
Slotted spoon
Colander that fits in one of the bowls
Large mesh strainer that fits in the other
Cheesecloth (clean kitchen towel will do)
Freezer containers

Put all ingredients in a large pot. Fill pot with cold water and stir (mine has liter markings on the inside, I fill to the 8 liter mark, about 1 inch/2.5 cm shy of the top). Heat on high and bring to a boil, then turn heat down to bare simmer and reduce for 2 hours (I reduce to the 5 liter mark). Set aside to cool for at least a couple more hours.

Set up one bowl with the colander nested in it. Using slotted spoon, remove solids from the pot and allow to drain in colander, occasionally pressing on contents. Set up other bowl (preferrably with the spout) with mesh strainer and line strainer with cheesecloth. Now pour some broth slowly through cheesecloth-lined strainer, filtering broth. Filter as many times as you like (I only do it once) and fill freezer containers. On last batch of broth to filter, remember to pour in what drained from solids. Keeps for a week in fridge or in perpetuity in freezer.

Hot Fudge
This is a great basic hot fudge topping, with or without the mint. DO NOT skip the the salt!

Basic Pizza Sauce
Basic as in straightforward, not as in “YA BASIC!”

Pan Pizza Dough
If you love pan pizza, this one’s for you.

American Breakfast Sausage
A must for biscuits and gravy.

You need to try this because 1) it’s really fun and interesting to observe the cheese process, 2) you end up with whey you can use in a soup or for baking bread and 3) now you have to make wonderful Indian food to use the paneer!

Please let me know if you try any of these. How did it turn out? Did you sub anything cool? Need help troubleshooting? I’d love to hear about your experiences.