Bundle Up & Chow Down
Warming winter dishes from three world cultures
By Anna Mindess
Winters around the Bay do not call for mittens, woolen hats, and snow shovels, but most of us still appreciate an excuse to share comforting soups, stews, and steaming drinks with friends and family around the holidays. For some, it’s about recalling times when we lived in locales where the thermometer plummeted for several months each year, and warming food and drink served a practical purpose. For others, wintertime is associated with specific dishes from our families’ cultural heritage, and eating these foods every year is a delicious way to stay connected.
When the kale gets sweet and the bugs get gone Anja Voth remembers waiting excitedly for the first frost every winter in her northern German town of Hamburg, since it meant the green kale was ready to be harvested and cooked into her region’s hearty winter stews. Her grandmother taught her that frost brings out kale’s sweetness and kills any bugs hiding in its curly leaves.
For the last five years, Voth, co-owner and chef at Berkeley’s Gaumenkitzel (2121 San Pablo Avenue), has been channeling her grandmother’s creative and practical spirit. She makes nearly every ingredient in her larder from scratch—yogurt, jams, mayonnaise, marzipan—as well as baking cakes and breads from grains she mills right in her kitchen.
Voth’s seasonal menu, with its organic, local ingredients and focus on craft, makes Gaumenkitzel popular year-round. But in winter, fans of German food flock here for some classic cold-weather dishes such as rutabaga and spare rib stew (see recipe on page 42) or white cabbage roulade, a labor-intensive dish of chopped meat rolled up inside blanched cabbage leaves, which are then seared and braised. And, of course, Voth serves a green kale with smoked pork loin dish. It’s the kind of substantial meal served at country inns during Germany’s winter kale festivals, a tradition dating back hundreds of years: Games, singing, and of course, drinking, are always part of the festivities.
Many people here picture German food as mounds of sausage and schnitzel (seasoned veal cutlets), but they are probably thinking of Southern German dishes. Voth describes Northern German cooking as lighter on meat and more focused on fish. “Northern German cuisine is more frugal, perhaps because the soil is not that good. We usually only had meat-centered menus on Sundays. On weekdays, we ate more vegetable-based dishes.”
During the icy cold months, Germans thaw out from wintry weather with hot, spiked beverages such as mulled wine, or coffee with a shot of rum topped by a dollop of whipped cream. And for New Year’s Eve, there’s the dramatic feuerzangenbowle. Voth describes how rum-soaked sugar cones are set on fire over a small metal grate to drip into a bowl of heated, spiced red wine. It’s a festive libation that allows revelers to greet the new year with a warm, tipsy glow, but due to the limitations of Voth’s liquor license, no bowls of flaming spirits are lit at Gaumenkitzel. Hot mulled wine and apple cider do just as well for a toast.
Food for chilly Korean winters
Although the classic Yuletide song paints a scene of “chestnuts roasting on an open fire,” these days, chestnuts are more likely to be roasted outdoors in metal pans and sold as hand-warming winter street food all over the world—from Paris to Istanbul or Seoul.
Born in Incheon, South Korea, chef Sunhui Chang was 7 when his family moved to Guam. There, his mother continued cooking Korean classics at home and in her award-winning restaurant. Now as the chef/owner of his own lauded restaurant—FuseBOX at 2311 Magnolia Street in West Oakland—Chang has been keeping up the family tradition with Korean-inspired favorites like succulent pork belly, galbi (marinated short ribs), and spicy chicken wings.
Winter reminds Chang of Korean street foods. Besides chestnuts, he recalls street vendors selling piping-hot sweet potatoes wrapped in newspaper. He describes the classic scene at Korean train stations: “Commuters buying hot sweet potatoes with the steam rising from them. People blowing on them and sucking in air as they eat the steaming hot potatoes.” Or they might eat hotteok, a sweet rice and wheat flour pancake served hot off the griddle, crispy on the outside and stuffed with a molten syrup of cinnamon, brown sugar, and peanuts.
“Again, customers blow on their hotteok as they eat them. Its name comes from the sound of sucking and blowing air,” says Chang. These treats served as the inspiration for Chang’s popular beignets at FuseBOX.
Chef Chang makes almost everything from scratch at his restaurant, including kimchi, pickles, tofu, and aioli. Come winter, he’ll add to his menu versions of classic Korean winter stews like dakjjim (braised chicken and vegetables in hot pepper sauce). These dishes are so comforting that Chang claims he’s tempted to keep serving them even when winter is over. His reasons? “First is the Bay Area’s weather with its chilly, foggy summer evenings. Second, the Korean table is always set with variety in flavor, texture, and temperature, such as cold kimchi and pickles with a warm soup or stew. That broth from the stew on top of rice is never out of season—it’s what I live for,” he says.
Among the dishes his mother would make in winter are yukgaejang (a spicy beef stew) and tteok-guk (recipe below). “The tteok-guk was one of my favorites,” he says, “and it is an essential dish that everyone eats to ensure good luck for the coming Lunar New Year.” Chang expects he’ll add tteok-guk to FuseBOX’s year-end menu.
“My rice cake soup has a clear broth—some cooks do a milky one, as each household has their own recipe,” he explains. “I make it as a beef brisket and daikon consommé, which I also use later for my galbi marinade.” The finished dish pairs classic flavors with a simple presentation, and one sees how Chang does not waste anything, making use of all parts of the vegetables that come into his kitchen. The brisket he uses to flavor his broth will make its way into a stew with soy and mirin, or it might be eaten on its own.
Warming meals for icy Scandinavian winters
While Anja Voth learned to cook from her grandmother and Sunhui Chang from his mother, Pia Klausen grew up helping out at Nordic House, the family business her father, Peter Caroe, established in 1962 on Oakland’s Telegraph Avenue. For over half a century, the cozy shop has catered to expatriate Scandinavians who miss the tastes of home.
“Growing up, I was always at the store on weekends. When I was 12, I started bagging candy, potato starch, and æbleskiver [Danish popover] mix,” says Klausen. “My desire was always to take over the business. I like that I’m not just sitting at a desk: I’m making sausages or helping customers.”
Since her Danish-born parents spoke their native language at home, Klausen could converse with her mother’s family during idyllic summers on Fyn, Denmark’s “garden island,” as well as during the year she spent in Denmark between high school and college. Equally valuable to her cultural identity were the traditional Danish meat-potato-and-vegetable dinners her mother cooked. Klausen recreates these hot meals for her own family now. “My husband Arve is Norwegian. I met him because his mother worked for my father,” she says. “And that’s what he grew up eating, too.” Arve’s father taught Pia to make Norway’s beloved national dish, fårikål (lamb with cabbage).
In 2000, after Pia and Arve married, they took over the shop, started a family, and, in 2011, moved Nordic House to its current spacious spot at 2709 on Berkeley’s San Pablo Avenue. In this cheery, light-filled space, they offer made-to-order deli sandwiches and a selection of imported cheeses, house-made sausages, liver paté, and meatballs, as well as scores of Scandinavian foods like lingonberry jam, licorice candy, and lefse (a Norwegian potato tortilla).
Arve and the kids always help out at Nordic House during December, their busiest month. Each Nordic country has a traditional specialty enjoyed for Christmas dinner and throughout the winter season such as Swedish brined ham, Norwegian pork ribs, and Danish pork with crispy skin. The Klausens prepare and freeze hundreds of servings of these cuts of meat and ship them all over the country.
Seasonal specialties also include glögg (gløgg in Danish), a warming drink for December get-togethers made with mulled, spiced red wine and spirits. The recipe varies among families and usually contains a combination of cinnamon, ginger, cloves, orange peel, and cardamom. In Denmark, the typical snack to accompany gløgg is æbleskiver—spherical popovers made in a special indented cast-iron pan. The unsweetened egg-y orbs are often eaten sprinkled with powdered sugar or dipped in strawberry jam.
Continuing an annual tradition started at Nordic House by Pia’s father, the Klausens host a holiday open house on the first three days after Thanksgiving to kick off the Christmas season and thank their customers (this year November 25, 26, and 27). Pia sets out long tables set with a generous spread of pickled herring, meatballs, liver paté, salami, sausage, and potato salad. There’s Christmas music, plenty of glögg, and her three kids make the æbleskiver, just like Pia used to do as a child.
In Belgium (or Berkeley), St. Nick Rewards Good Children with Speculoos Cookies
Berkeley resident Evy Ballegeer’s nostalgia for a treat she ate growing up in Belgium inspired her to start a business making the traditional crispy, spiced cookies called speculoos. Her company, Little Belgians, founded in 2014, produces a variety of these molded cookies.
After a career in journalism, Ballegeer wanted a change. Noting the growing interest in artisanal food, she attended Tante Marie’s cooking school in San Francisco and interned with the pastry chef at San Francisco’s Nopa. When she offered her handmade speculoos for the restaurant’s cookie plate, she received an enthusiastic response and realized there was a demand that wasn’t being satisfied by the mass-marketed version. “I was interested in preserving the history, craft, and tradition of speculoos,” says Ballegeer. “We use organic butter and nine spices, including cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, pepper, and ginger. Mass-market speculoos are made with palm oil and just cinnamon.”
These thin, crispy spice cookies, which are also enjoyed in the Netherlands and Germany, trace their lineage to the 17th century, when the Dutch East India Company opened up the spice route to Asia. Town bakers in these Northern European countries employed hand-carved wooden molds to form the treats in a variety of shapes, from animals to representations of local personages or saints. The Dutch liked their cookies, which they call speculaas, to be in the shape of their ubiquitous windmills.
Ballegeer started with four shapes inspired by childhood memories: “an umbrella, because it always rains in Belgium; a bird for my grandfathers, who raised and raced pigeons; a house representing a dwelling in Ghent, my favorite Belgian city, where I went to college; and a cyclist, to honor my aunts and uncles, as they avidly watched bicycle races on TV while drinking coffee and eating speculoos.” She recently added two new shapes: a fireplace for a gourmet s’mores kit (along with TCHO chocolate and The Candy’s marshmallows), and a cookie in the shape of Saint Nicholas with bishops’ robes and a pointed miter, to reconnect to one of speculoos’ most iconic uses.
The cookies are enjoyed year-round as a traditional accompaniment to coffee. (Children typically dunk theirs in their parents’ coffee cups.) But in Belgium and the Netherlands, the cookies are also essential for celebrating the birthday of Sinterklaas or Saint Nicholas, (a thinner ancestor of our Santa Claus). On December 5, the eve of the saint’s birthday, Belgian children place their shoes with a carrot or rutabaga inside next to the fireplace. That treat is for St. Nick’s horse, which gets parked on the roof while the boss delivers presents through the chimney. In return, if the children have been good, St. Nick leaves them mandarin oranges, chocolate, a little gift, and a large wrapped speculoos in his own image, which will be discovered on the morning of December 6.
Now, Ballegeer’s children, ages 9 and 11, can enjoy the authentic cookies of their mother’s childhood, enriched with their own cozy memories.
Freelance writer Anna Mindess follows immigrant food journeys and stories of cities where food and locale deliciously intertwine. A frequent contributor to Oakland Magazine, KQED Bay Area Bites, and Berkeleyside, she also works as a sign language interpreter and combines her food and culture interests by leading tasting tours in ASL. Find more of her writing at eastbayethniceats.com.
Steckrubeneintopf mit Dicker Rippe from Gaumenkitzel
(Rutabaga stew with short ribs)
This recipe for slow-cooked short ribs and bacon with rutabaga, carrot, onion, and potato is typical of Northern German cuisine. Chef Anja’s mother often made this dish for her family.
Serves 4 to 5
3 pounds pork spare ribs or beef short ribs, cut into serving sections
¾ pound slab bacon (or soft beef salami) sliced to ¾ inch to 2 inches thick (Pre-sliced bacon is not recommended as it is too thin and will fall apart while cooking.)
4 twigs fresh marjoram
Filtered water, as needed
1–2 teaspoons salt
1 pound rutabagas, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
¾ pound carrots, peeled and cut into ¾-inch cubes or ½-inch thick slices
¾ pound firm waxy type potatoes (such as red, yellow, or Yukon gold), peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes. (Submerging the cut potatoes in water before use will keep them from turning brown.)
1 small yellow onion, halved and cut into thin slices
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns*
A few whole dry juniper berries (optional)*
Chopped parsley, as desired, for garnish
* Grind the peppercorns to medium fine (along with the optional juniper berries). If using a mortar and pestle, adding some salt will help with grinding.
Place the ribs, bacon slices (or salami), salt, and marjoram in a large, wide cooking pot with a lid. Gently pour in filtered water to barely cover the meat. Cover pot and slowly bring to a boil over medium-high heat, about 20 to 25 minutes. Don’t rush: High heat will cause the protein to coagulate and make white flakes in your stew. When water reaches a boil, reduce heat to low and let simmer for 15 minutes.
Turn off heat and place all the vegetables in the pot on top of the meat. (To prevent breaking up of vegetables during cooking, resist the urge to stir the pot from this point onward.) Add the ground black pepper and (optional) juniper berries. Cover, turn heat to medium-high, bring to a boil, then turn heat to low and let simmer for another 20 to 25 minutes until vegetables are soft but not mushy. Test doneness of each vegetable individually to determine if they are cooked. Taste broth, adding more salt and pepper as needed.
Serve in soup bowls, ladling in some vegetables first, then placing meat portions on top. Add more broth and vegetables as desired, removing any remaining marjoram stems. Garnish with chopped parsley, as desired.
Tteok-Guk from FuseBOX
(Korean rice cake soup)
For Korean ingredients, Chef Chang recommends Koreana Plaza on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland or HanKook Supermarket in Sunnyvale. “Of course, the best adventure would be L.A.’s Koreatown,” says Chang.
Makes 2–3 servings
For the beef and daikon stock
2 pounds beef brisket
1 medium Korean daikon, washed, peeled, and sliced into 2-inch-thick rounds
10 cloves garlic
2 bunches scallions (Use entire onion, including green shoots and roots.)
Immerse beef brisket in cold water for 10 minutes to soak out excess blood and impurities. Change water after 5 minutes.
Bring a pot of water (enough to thoroughly immerse brisket) to a rolling boil. Add brisket and let cook, uncovered, for 10 minutes, then take out the meat (you can discard the water) and rinse it in cold water.
Place the parboiled brisket, daikon, garlic, and onions in a large pot with 8 cups water, adding more water as needed to cover meat and vegetables. Bring to boil and lower heat to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, for 45 minutes. Skim foam from the top as it cooks.
Fish out and discard the daikon, garlic, and onions, then cook the meat in the broth for another 20 minutes.
Take out the brisket (reserving the broth) and soak the meat in an ice bath. When totally cool, remove from ice bath and mince (or slice) a small amount to add to the rice cake soup, 1–2 ounces per serving, depending on taste. (Remaining meat might be used for a brisket sandwich.)
Strain finished stock through a fine metal sieve. It can be stored in the freezer for up to 3 months.
For the Tteok-Guk
(Korean rice cake soup)
For one serving of soup
2 cups beef daikon stock
1–2 cups oval-cut Korean rice cakes*
1 egg, lightly whisked in a small bowl
1 sheet toasted, unseasoned Korean seaweed (or Japanese nori), torn into ½-inch squares
1 tablespoon scallion slivers (cut in thin rings or 1-inch strips, using both green and white parts, according to taste)
Fresh cracked black pepper to taste
In a pot, bring 2 cups (per serving) of beef and daikon stock to a low boil. Season with salt to taste. (Remember, there has been no salt added up to this point.) Add 1–2 cups oval-cut rice cakes to the stock and cook for 2 minutes. Stirring the soup quickly to form a “cyclone,” add the whisked egg and stir to form the “egg flower.”
Pour soup into a serving bowl. Add a small amount of minced beef brisket, the torn seaweed, and the scallion slivers. Season with cracked black pepper to taste. Serve with daikon kimchi.
*Korean rice cakes generally come in three main sizes: a thick round rope; a thinner round rope; and oval cut, which is a bias cut from the thick, round rope. In the East Bay, we are lucky to be able to get fresh rice cakes that are made daily at Koreana Plaza, in addition to the packaged ones in the refrigerated section.
Farikal from Nordic House
(Norwegian lamb and cabbage)
Norway’s dark, icy winters bring a narrow selection of vegetables, but through the magical transformation of slow cooking, cabbage and lamb become a warming meal that repeatedly has been voted Norway’s National Dish. Pia Klausen learned to make Fårikål from her father-in-law. “It’s simple, and kids love it. You can make it ahead of time and warm it up,“ says Klausen. “And if there are any leftovers, it’s even better heated up the next day.” Traditionally, it’s served with small boiled potatoes.
Serves 4 to 5
4 pounds lamb shoulder blade, bone-in for best flavor
1 cup flour (exact quantity depends on how thick you like your gravy)
2 heads green cabbage, quartered. Each quarter sliced into three 1-inch wedges
½ tablespoon whole black peppercorns
Place lamb shoulder pieces in a wide (4 gallon) pot or Dutch oven, and cover with salted water.
Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook uncovered for 2 or 3 hours, until meat starts to fall off the bone.
Using a slotted spoon, remove meat pieces to a bowl and then sprinkle a small amount of flour over the remaining broth. As the fat globules on the surface capture the flour, they will sink. Whisk it and bring the heat up to medium. Continue whisking the broth so that it thickens without clumps.
Add the meat back into the pot, alternating with layers of cabbage wedges. Sprinkle peppercorns on top. Cook uncovered on low simmer for 30 to 40 minutes until the cabbage reaches preferred consistency. (Do not stir while cooking, as ingredents will fall apart. Just make sure heat is low enough so meat doesn’t burn.)