Earlier this month, I discovered there’s a National German-American Day (October 6th) in my home country. It seems it was created in 1883 but got put on the shelf during World War I, when German descendants wanted to keep their roots on the down-low. Then in 1983, sensing an auspicious anniversary, Ronald Reagan brought it back. I’ve never known this particular day to be celebrated in Wisconsin, which is home to countless people of German ancestry. But it may just be that it doesn’t stand a chance against Oktoberfest, a much bigger deal for the gentle folk of this state.
As my own family is mostly German on both sides, and almost everyone I knew growing up had this same background, Germany never seemed very exotic or interesting to me when I was younger. I half-heartedly studied the language for a semester as an undergrad, but then when a scheduling conflict made the second semester inaccessible, I enrolled in an Arabic class instead. I’ve taken more of an interest in my heritage in recent years though, so when I heard about this little holiday I decided to pay homage to it with this vegan version of a favorite family dish.
It’s a shortcut version of sauerbraten, a beef pot roast that’s marinated in vinegar over days and days (the name means “sour roast”), although I liked the meatball alternative better in any case. My mom always served the meatballs over a fettucine-type pasta, but they could also be paired with rice or presented on a plate skewered with toothpicks for a buffet dinner.
What sets this recipe apart is its special ingredient. The sauce is made with – hold onto your hats – gingersnap cookies! My mom makes her own gingersnaps, but I used Lotus brand speculoos, which have a similar enough taste. The cookie element makes this dish a bit sweet (there’s some brown sugar in there too!), so to balance out the flavors, consider serving it with a neutral-tasting side dish like green beans, or even something bitter such as arugula/rocket or endives.
Sauerbraten meatballs and sauce
Makes about 23 meatballs (two or three servings)
- 14 oz (400 g) vegan ground “beef” (look for brands like HappyVore, Herta or Beyond Meat)
- 1 small onion, grated
- 1 cup breadcrumbs (1 piece of pre-sliced bread)
- 1/4 cup (60 ml) unsweetened plant-based cream
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- About 6 tablespoons flour, for coating
- A few tablespoons vegan butter or margarine, for the frying pan
- Fettuccine or similar pasta, prepared according to package instructions
For the sauce:
- 1 cup (236 ml) vegetable broth
- 1/3 cup crushed gingersnaps or speculoos/biscoff cookies
- 3 tablespoons brown sugar
- 3 tablespoons vinegar (any kind, but I used red wine vinegar)
- 1/3 cup (80 ml) water
Equipment needed: vegetable grater, large frying pan with cover.
Begin placing the meatball ingredients in a medium mixing bowl.
Using a vegetable grater, grate the onion (alternatively, dice it very, very finely).
Add the breadcrumbs. I just tore up a slice of bread with my fingers, but you could use store-bought fine breadcrumbs and it would also work well.
Add the salt, pepper and cream and stir thoroughly until you have a homogeneous texture. Then get a small bowl and add the flour to this. Roll the meatballs in your hands, making them each about the size of a walnut. Lightly coat them with the flour.
Place the rolled meatballs on a plate as you go along.
Warm some vegan butter or margarine in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the meatballs.
Cover (not shown, oops!) and cook the meatballs for several minutes on each side. Keep a close eye on them to be sure they aren’t burning or getting too brown.
While the meatballs are cooking, start making the sauce. Roughly crush the gingersnap or speculoos cookies into a 1/3 measuring cup (the crumb size doesn’t matter since the crumbs will quickly dissolve).
Heat the broth, add the crushed cookies, brown sugar and vinegar. Once the cookie crumbs have dissolved and the mixture is drawing close to a boil, remove from heat.
Immediately pour the sauce over the meatballs, cover the pan again and let simmer for 20 minutes. The flour coating from the meatballs will thicken the sauce. Stir occasionally, turning the meatballs over to ensure they’re all evenly coated with the sauce.
While the meatballs are simmering, prepare your pasta or rice. Use whatever amount you’ll need to serve the number of people who will be sharing this meal.
And there you have it! As a side note, I’m happy to report that my mom now makes this dish in a meat-free version herself even when I’m not there. With Beyond Meat or similar products, the taste is so close to the original, but the impact in terms of health, biodiversity and the planet is much, much better. Not to mention nicer for the animals!
As always, if you try this, let me know how it turned out!
And if you’re a fan of meatballs, be sure to check out my favorite holiday recipe, Scandinavian juleboller with spiced blackcurrant sauce.