Tuesday, October 16, 2007

eat 'em and weep

When the first line of the recipe you're about to make reads "Take one kilogram of onions, peeled and thinly sliced." you know there's going to be trouble. Well OK, I know there's going to be trouble. You see, onions and I have a somewhat rocky relationship. I adore them, but, alas, they seldom return my affections and seem to delight in taunting me from beginning to end.

One kilogram - that's about 2.2 pounds, or approximately 12 small onions! And I prefer to slice by hand rather than letting my elderly food processor (and I'm not talking about Mr. M here) do the job. Short of wearing ski goggles while I work, I still haven't come up with a way to prevent those little devils from doing a number on my oh-so-senstive eyes. And believe me, I've tried everything. By the time I've finished slicing and dicing I look like hell. My eyes are red, puffy and streaming and my make-up is ruined. I tell you, if you've got something to cry about, do it while you're slicing onions and no one will be the wiser.

So why don't I just give up on the relationship? Well, if you're a "from scratch" kind of cook and enjoy making your own German food, wrestling with a big pile of onions is practically manditory at this time of year. That's right, it's Zwiebelkuchen season. A Zwiebelkuchen is a type of onion tart made from sour cream or creme fraiche, eggs, diced bacon, caraway seeds and those naughty, naughty onions all spread out on a base of yeast dough. Here is a recipe similar to the one I used, but be sure to use only half the amount of milk called for in the yeast dough. You can improvise a bit with the ingredients until you get what you like. Check out Charlotte's Zwiebelkuchen post. She's been indulging since September.

My tart turned out like this

(I left off the caraway seeds because some of us don't care for them.)

I'll mention here that not only do onions make me cry bitter tears, they also do a number on my digestive system. I'm not a picky eater. I'll try almost anything once, but onions just don't agree with me in many ways. Suffice it to say that although Zwiebelkuchen tastes very, very good, a couple of pieces a year do me just fine.

Others will be able to dig in and eat lots and lots and any hardy Germans will tell you the real reason to make or buy Zwiebelkuchen is to be able to drink copious amounts of Zwiebelkuchen's best friend - Federweisser.

Also known as Junger Wein or Neuer Wein (young or new wine) in some parts of Germany, Federweisser is a fermenting grape must that increases in alcohol content over several days, going from very sweet and bubbly to somewhat sour, finally reaching about 9.5%. This wine doesn't have a long shelf life and should be consumed soon after purchase. Since the fermentation gases would make sealed bottles explode, the bottle caps are only put on loosely, so store this stuff upright unless you want a sticky mess. More here at Wikipedia

We bought three kinds of Federwiesser to try this year - rosé, red and white.

The label on the bottle of white tells us that the fermentation process takes 3 to 8 days and can be slowed down by refrigeration. It also reminds us to jolly well store the bottle upright!

I love the label on the red Roter Sauser. Looks like the little cherub may have been imbibing himself.

So if Zwiebelkuchen alone makes my innards go crazy, what does Zwiebelkuchen and Federweisser together do? Seriously, you don't want to know. Not being a fan, I really only had a tiniest of sips. Can you say instant hangover? What a wimp.

As much as I enjoy celebrating the seasons with traditional food, I guess it's back to dry toast and chamomile tea for the next few days.

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At October 16, 2007 4:40 p.m., Blogger Carol said...

Oooooh! I just LOVE your food posts! I was afraid to try zwiebelkuchen when I was in Germany last month (OK, maybe it was more that so many other goodies got my attention first), but I'll have to make it now!

Hey, let me know when we can play for a day in Seattle next summer!


At October 16, 2007 4:59 p.m., Blogger Alison said...

I have the same love/hate relationship with onions... But that looks so worth the tears. Besides, everyone needs a good cry every now and again :)

At October 16, 2007 6:26 p.m., Blogger CanadianSwiss said...

Mmmmmm!! I just love that, and I eat it although too many onions also make my digestion go a bit crazy. But since I'm a tough cookie, I'll indulge anyway :)

BTW: In Switzerland, they are called "Zwiebelewähe" and in the Alsace, they make a much lighter version called "Flammekuechä". It's a very thin, extremely crispy crust - think a bit thicker than Philo dough- topped with only sour cream, onions and bacon bits.

At October 16, 2007 8:17 p.m., Blogger Angie said...

I'm laughing so hard at your "elderly food processor" comment... soon people will be stopping by my desk to ask what's so funny! As always, your food looks delish, but I'd have to like onions a lot more than I do to try it! (I'll eat 'em, but I hate the texture, if that makes sense.)

My German ancestors are probably shaking their heads at me from the grave...

At October 16, 2007 8:37 p.m., Blogger C N Heidelberg said...

I love Zwiebelkuchen. I think the combination of it with too much neuer wein is bad for pretty much everybody, though!!

You probably already tried everything but I'll put it out there anyway - it helps me with cutting onions to use my grandma's trick of cutting them over the sink with the water running. (Kind of wasteful though.)
Also, I have no problem cutting onions while wearing contacts!

At October 17, 2007 12:44 a.m., Blogger hexe said...

I also cry non-stop from the first peel of an onion. Your tart looks yummy. I love food/recipes that seasonal - things that we make just certain times of the year. It makes them more special.

At October 17, 2007 1:24 a.m., Blogger CaliforniaKat said...

Looks good, but it also looks like a lactose nightmare for me.

It's be worth it though, after you went through the trouble of crying and all.

At October 17, 2007 3:48 a.m., Blogger Maribeth said...

I bet it's great. Wonder if I can make a low salt/low sugar/low fat one?

At October 17, 2007 5:27 a.m., Blogger illahee said...

i know you said you tried everything, but may i throw out a suggestion? not that i've tried it myself, but i saw it on japanese TV (and you know, everything you see on tv is true...)

anyway, the trick is to put two candles (tapers) on either side of your cutting board. something about the way they burn takes the fumes of the onion(s) away from your eyes.

if you've tried that already, my apologies. or...if you don't think you could handle having candles around while you chop (one reason i haven't tried it myself...lol)

At October 17, 2007 10:05 a.m., Blogger Samantha said...

That's funny, I always thought flammenkuechä was the German name for it.

Whatever it's called, I sure love it though - it's what I usually order whenever we get pizza!

At October 17, 2007 11:54 a.m., Blogger christina said...

carol - There are a lot of good things to eat at this time of year - hard to choose.

alison - It's really worth it and I'd eat more of the stuff if I could.

canswiss - I think in Switzerland they call just about anything plopped onto a piece of dough a "Wehe" don't they? :-) We had some Flammkuchen just the other day and it was alos really good.

angie - Hope I didn't get you fired for too much levity in the workplace. I totally get the onion textural thing - it depends how they're cooked, I guess.

cnheidelberg - You need a stomach of steel to eat both together, I think. I do sometimes rinse the onions in cold water but I haven't tried it with the water actually running.

hexe - I really like cooking with the seasons and most things here aren't available all year round like in some countries so they are more special.

californiakat - Oh yeah, if the sour cream didn't kill you the onions would.

maribeth - That's a tough one since it seems to be ALL about the salt and fat here and there's even a bit of sugar in the dough.

illahee - Thanks for the suggestion. I think I may have tried it with one candle before. Two would probably be much better if I took care not to catch myself on fire.

Samantha - Yes indeed, Flammkuchen IS the German name for the tarte flambée, but the Zwiebelkuchen is a totally different animal with a thicker crust and eggs mixed in with the sour cream. It has to bake for way longer than the Flammkuchen which is done in minutes. I guess what they serve depends what region of Germany (or France) you're in.

At October 17, 2007 1:40 p.m., Blogger tinakala said...

I´m with Carol here. And I´ve tried the new wine, it gets to you really quickly, is a wee bit bubbly and the headache the next day...makes sure you drink some more just to get over it. Skol!

At October 18, 2007 5:09 p.m., Anonymous MollyB said...

I think I got enough of this classic combo my first year here. UnGroom was so thrilled to finally be licensed to cook for more than one, he made Zwiebelkuchen about five times that autumn.

Not sure how much difference candles make - maybe tapers are the ticket. I've tried surrounding the cutting board with tea lights.

At October 18, 2007 5:57 p.m., Blogger Snooker said...

The Zwiebelkuchen looks lovely, I will have to try your recipe... as for the neuer Wein... ah, life can't get much better!

You might have tried this for your onion tears, but I learned that a fan placed in such a way as to move the "onion air" away from my face has worked for me.

I used to have one of those cheapie plastic clip fans at my disposal. Just clip it to something nearby (head height worked best for me) and direct the wind between you and the onion you are cutting. The wind shouldn't be too strong, or goes through the whole room, defeating the purpose.

At October 18, 2007 7:16 p.m., Blogger CanadianSwiss said...

Just for the record, tarte flambée is the French name for Flammekuechä. The Alsace is really trying hard to keep their culture and language, also in school, which I think is great.

Ever heard Alsacian dialect (mix of German and French)?? Try this: "Chasse mir d'r Güggel zum jardin uus (pronounced : üüs), er frisst mir all' légumes!"

At October 18, 2007 9:15 p.m., Blogger Samantha said...

I've never seen "tarte flambée" here in Bretagne - it's listed as "Flammenkuche" (I just double-checked their spelling of it) at all of the pizza places around here. My favorite way to get it is with the thicker crust - YUM! Maybe I'll have to try to make one sometime...but you're right, the thought of cutting all those onions is not really that enticing. I wonder if frozen onions would work? I use those all the time when cooking....

At October 19, 2007 9:32 p.m., Blogger swenglishexpat said...

We often have (in fact just about to have)Flammkuchen, which we call German pizza. They are superbly tasty. I love them. But when it comes to onion peeling, my eyes just don't agree with that culinary activity (I am sentimental enough without it). I have to dice 'n slice onions with my eyes shut, which is not always the recommended way of handling sharp kitchen tools!

At October 20, 2007 10:31 a.m., Blogger Betty C. said...

In France we can buy quite high-quality sliced, frozen onions. I use them all the time. I swear I can't tell the difference as long as there are other ingredients involved. And they come in handy, one-kilo bags...

At October 20, 2007 10:57 a.m., Blogger Ginnie said...

You really are hilarious, Christina. I totally recommend that you make a book of all your cooking posts for expats in Germany because they make for incredible reading. I'm very serious. Surely there is someone in Germany who would see a market for it. And because it would come with all YOUR finely-tuned recipes, it would make quite the cookbook!

At October 21, 2007 12:16 a.m., Blogger Claire said...

The German loves Federweiss and Zweibelkuchen. We have had it several times this year. Unfortunately, after eating it I got sick for the first time in my pregnancy. Zweibelkuchen + pregnant woman = 3am run to the bathroom.

At October 22, 2007 2:08 a.m., Anonymous Juanita said...

An old German trick to avoid crying while cutting onions: Take one of those old-fashioned wooden matches, put it into your mouth with the end that you would light sticking out. I guess the sulfur absorbs the onion fumes. If you cut a lot of onions, change the match occasionally. Oh yeah, DON'T light it. *smile*

At October 25, 2007 5:10 p.m., Blogger anno said...

Oh, how fabulous! I remember buying this stuff -- cheap -- by the slice in Munster. Even a student could afford a glass of wine to go along with it. I've been trying to duplicate it ever since, with not much success, and I'm looking forward to trying out this recipe.

FWIW, wearing contact lenses seems to minimize tearing while chopping the onions. Also, nearly caramelizing onions turns them into a sweet complement to the ham, and I think it makes them more digestible.

At October 30, 2007 10:54 a.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

mmmmh, the ZWIEBELKUCHEN looks very yummy! Nice blog by the way, will check back again. Cheers from Ireland, Symone


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