Tuesday, July 8, 2008

"Berry-ous" Delights from Germany: Blueberry Soup with Caramelized Croutons (Blaubeersuppe)

Think that German food is all bratwurst, wiener schnitzel, and sauerkraut? This week, Nadia Hassani, author of Spoonfuls of Germany, is here to disabuse of us of that notion with introductions to a variety of German recipes with berries – including cakes, desserts, and more!

Summertime is berry time, and German cuisine abounds in wonderful dishes with different berries. While some of the berries are widely available in the United States, such as blueberries and raspberries, you might have to hunt for gooseberries and other less common types, or join the growing ranks of home gardeners and grow your own.

Blueberry Soup with Caramelized Croutons, or Blaubeersuppe, is a refreshing, velvety soup and one of my summer favorites. It is a dish from the North of Germany, a cuisine that often combines sweet and sour ingredients. Traditionally it is served as an appetizer but it is also a wonderfully light dessert or a mid-day snack. The croutons are optional.

In Germany, the soup is made with “Heidelbeeren” (bilberries or whortleberries), the European cousin of the blueberry. Bilberries are smaller and tarter than the North American blueberries, which work just as well. And, as we all know as educated consumers: size does NOT matter. The important thing is that the berries are ripe, so don’t be tempted by those gigantic blueberries that almost look like purple grapes.

A note about lemon zest: Countless German dessert and baking recipes call for lemon zest. Preferably the lemons should be organic lemons but since they are not always available, or quite expensive, I have resorted to packaged lemon zest. My favorite is moist lemon zest, which is also sold as “European” lemon zest. You can also use dehydrated lemon zest, but to get the full flavor, you need to soak it in warm water for 15 minutes before adding it to the dish.

6 to 8 servings

2 pints fresh blueberries
½ cup sugar
1 stick cinnamon
Zest of 1 lemon, finely grated, preferably organic
2 cups dry red wine
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch

8 thin slices baguette, or 4 slices firm white bread
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon sugar

1. For the soup, clean the blueberries and pick them over for culls. Put them in a large saucepan with 2 cups water, the sugar, cinnamon stick, and lemon zest. Cover and cook over low to medium heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Strain the soup through a fine sieve and pour it back into the pan. Add the wine and bring the soup back to a simmer.

2. Mix the cornstarch with a few tablespoons of the soup in a small bowl until the cornstarch is completely dissolved, and whisk it into the soup. Simmer until the soup thickens and the cornstarch becomes clear. Remove from the heat. Cool and chill.

3. For the croutons, cut the bread into 1⁄2-inch cubes. Heat the butter in a large skillet and add the bread. Crisp the bread over high heat, turning frequently. Sprinkle the sugar over the bread and caramelize. Stir the soup well, ladle it in individual soup bowls, and top with a few croutons. Serve at once.

Pictures courtesy of Nadia Hassani and Wikimedia Commons.

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