It had been mostly cold and rainy through most of June. But this past week was when summer finally hit here. Or at least the summer I know: hot, muggy, insect-y, green. The sort of days that make you want to hide in the shade or go jump in the river, the kind of nights where you lie awake without a blanket because it’s just too humid to sleep.
That’s how this post has been saved for the last year and a half. I hope this is the start of something cool. Or fun, at least. And consistent. I never know what I want to write about, but I want to start writing again. And food’s always a good place, right? I know the whole food blog thing is kinda played out. It’s sort of become a meme already: the long, rambly back-story text that everyone skims over to get to the recipe. I’m fashionably late to this party.
There’s a lot of German food that no one’s bothered to write much about. Not in English, anyway. This little number is the German answer to salsa verde or sauce vert or any sort of herb-based green sauce upon which there are countless variations the world over. My introduction started with a roommate of mine from Frankfurt, where this is a local classic. Even within Hesse, the state in the west of Germany wherein Frankfurt lies, there are many regional variants. They’re all prepared and served cold, albeit traditionally as a sauce or accompaniment to hot boiled potatoes and eggs. They’re all creamy sauces.
They’re often served on Holy Thursday, its name in German being Green Thursday (Gründonnerstag) for reasons The Linguists™ aren’t entirely sure of. It’s a good match, though: while it can be served with boiled beef (or for the more modern types in Frankfurt, on Schnitzels, on burgers, the options are endless), most commonly it is a poor man’s meal served on boiled potatoes and eggs. In this way, it’s meatless for a day at the absolute high point of the biggest Christian fasting season, just a few days before Easter begins. And Holy Thursday usually falls in early- to mid-spring, when the herbs are just beginning to pop up out of the ground and everybody is ready for something refreshing and green after a long winter.
The classic Frankfurt green sauce is based on seven herbs: parsley, chives, borage, chervil, cress, sorrel, and salad burnet. Parsley and chives are ones that everyone knows. I’m sure most people have at least tried some sort of cress in their life. Chervil is one you’ve read about in that old cookbook from the 1950s you inherited from your grandmother but have probably not used very much. Borage is something I’d never heard of until I started making this. Its big, thick, hairy leaves have a cool, cucumber/melon taste. Sorrel is one I’d heard of but had never eaten or used: its leaves are decidedly sour, but in a fruity sort of way. Lastly, we come to salad burnet. This one I found the hardest to describe. It tastes very old-fashioned to me. In an “awoke long-forgotten memories of old-school restaurants and steak houses and salad bars that no longer exist” sort of way. Difficult to explain. But in a cool way.
Now to the sauce itself. Most recipes you see call for yogurt or sour cream or, for you really REALLY old-school farm boys out there, clabber, as a binding agent. Basically, collect a mountain of herbs, chop them as fine as you can, mix with any of the above and season to taste. Unfortunately, I was left, through some catastrophe in my genome or upbringing, with an extreme disinclination toward sour milk products. When the above-mentioned come into play, if it’s strong enough, I have to leave the room to not gag. I hate the hand I’ve been dealt in that regard, but it’s what I have to work with. Fortunately, there’s another route: one that has a long tradition, but is usually looked over. Based on a mayonnaise, or in this case and more specifically, a sauce gribiche, made with sieved egg yolks, mustard, and chopped pickled cucumbers. Much more aristocratic than the poor man’s mix of various weeds that grow in the wild here, for sure. But my roommate from Frankfurt suffers from lactose intolerance and he was beside himself when I presented him a version of his heritage that he could eat and not need to spend the evening in the outhouse. I’d call that the real seal of approval.
I’m sorry for how rambly this has been. I was hoping to have some sort of formal recipe for Frankfurt-style green sauce at the end here, but it’s occured to me just now that it’s 11:00pm on a February evening so nothing is growing in my herb garden, and I’ve only ever made this recipe by feel. So for now, the vague description. Maybe this spring, when the afternoons are warm enough to sit outside with a drink after some garden work, when I’ve picked my fresh-out-of-the ground first herbs of spring for the next round of sauce, when Easter is just a few days away, I’ll get around to measuring stuff out.
Frankfurt-style Green Sauce
- Garden Cress
- Salad Burnet
- Eggs, hard-cooked
- Onions or shallots
- Oil (I used a virgin rapeseed oil)
- Lemon juice
- White wine vinegar
- Salt, pepper
Chop herbs as fine as you can manage. Or if you’re not a glutton for punishment, grind in food processor. Finely chop shallot, pickle, and cooked egg white. Push cooked yolks through a sieve; mix with mustard, lemon juice, vinegar, salt, pepper, shallot, and pickle. Whisk in oil very slowly, forming an emulsion. When the sauce is thick to your liking, mix in your mountain of herbs and chopped egg white. Taste for seasoning. Let sit for a few hours somewhere cool to develop flavors.
Serve with warm boiled potatoes and hard-cooked eggs, or over thinly-sliced boiled beef. And of course with a cold beer or, for the true Frankfurt experience, apple wine.