Food & Drink

Turning German traditions into Northwest vegan dishes

Pumpkin spaetzle, made with roasted vegetables and German dumplings.
Pumpkin spaetzle, made with roasted vegetables and German dumplings. Staff photographer

When Marti Miller Hall was a little girl, one of her favorite dishes was spaetzle – mostly because of the name.

“It translates to ‘little sparrows,’” explains Hall, whose grandparents were German. “I thought that was the coolest thing. I must have asked them to say it thousands of times.”

Now, those little sparrows have become vegan — and have taken pride of place on Hall’s Thanksgiving dinner table. A vegan for ten years, and raised vegetarian, the Puyallup educator and food blogger loves bringing the German comfort food, which looks and tastes a little like miniature gnocchi, into her Thanksgiving feast, taking out the eggs and adding baked kabocha squash for a seasonal flavor and golden color.

“It’s a good way to keep family traditions going,” Hall says.

But Hall’s kept other family traditions as well. Like her mother, she invites many folks round for a buffet-style Thanksgiving dinner: people who don’t have family or a place to go. as well as her three daughters and boyfriend Shaun Haney.

“It’s been fun,” she says. “Sometimes I’ve had my kids say, ‘Mom, who’s that?’ The deck’s full, the kitchen’s full, there are tables everywhere!”

And everything’s vegan — which is another reason her guests love to come. Dishes might include stuffed Portobello mushrooms, richly nutty and chunky with various fresh wild mushrooms; potatoes of all colors roasted with salt and rosemary; and her daughter Olivia’s specialty — small apples stuffed with dried fruit and nuts and baked in a puff pastry wrap to a sweet crunchiness. Hall serves them with a luscious cashew-based ice cream.

“We do Christmas with my parents, but Thanksgiving is my thing with my family,” says Hall. “It ends up being the saving grace for a lot of people that have just gone vegetarian and don’t want to deal with (explaining it to) relations.”

One dish Hall thinks twice about cooking, though, is käse knöpfla — in German, ‘cheese buttons’ — little circles of dough rather like pirogis, which Hall now makes in a vegan version.

“They’re very labor-intensive, but Grandma would make them for Christmas,” she remembers. “When we were little, my sister and I would have contests to see who could eat 20. Now I know better — 20 take an hour to make!”

Rosemary Ponnekanti: 253-597-8568, @rose_ponnekanti

Pumpkin Spaetzle

1 1/4 cups all purpose flour

1/2 cup durum flour

1/2 cup chickpea/garbanzo (besan) flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon regular black, or white, pepper

Pinch nutmeg

½ cup pumpkin or squash puree (smooth, mashed baked pumpkin or squash is best here - canned pumpkin is a bit too wet)

1 cup plant milk

Editor’s note: A spaetzle maker, which looks like a metal cheese grater with a sliding plastic box attached to the top, can be purchased for around $10-$15 at Bed Bath and Beyond or another home store. Specialty flours are available at finer grocery stores and stores catering to vegans and vegetarians, such as Marlene’s Natural Market in Tacoma.

Whisk the flours, baking powder, salt, pepper and nutmeg together in a small bowl.

Put milk and pumpkin into a medium bowl, mix well and whisk in the flour mixture until smooth.

It should be like a thick pancake batter.

Add a bit of milk or all-purpose flour to adjust batter consistency.

Beat it with a wooden spoon for about 5 minutes, until it gets kind of “gluey,” to develop gluten (I do this in a KitchenAid).

Cover and let it rest for about 30 minutes.

Bring 10 cups of water to a boil, season (like you would for pasta) with salt.

Drop a ½ teaspoon “test” dumpling into boiling water. It should hold together and rise to the surface after a minute or two. If it falls apart, mix a tablespoon or more flour into the batter.

Place your spaetzle maker on top of the pot and pour about half of the batter into the sliding box. Slide it from side to side so that the spaetzle fall into the water. Repeat with the remaining batter. (Or use whatever method you choose for making)

After one or two minutes the dumplings will float to the top and you can transfer them to a colander.

After all dumplings have been cooked, toss with a little margarine and serve however you want.

There are many ways to serve spaetzle — some traditional accompaniments might include fried onions and potatoes, roasted vegetables, sausage and sauerkraut, cheese, lentils, bacon, brown gravy or caramelized onions and buttered breadcrumbs.

Wild Mushroom- Stuffed Mushrooms

8 large Portabello Mushrooms

2 cups prepared stuffing, made how you prefer and cooled, (from a box, from a mix, from your grandma, whatever you want, stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joes carry boxed stuffing brands that are are actually vegetarian or vegan or gluten free)

2 cups chopped wild mushrooms of your choice (I use chantrelles and lobster mushrooms, but any kind will do)

1/2 an onion, chopped fine

2 links Field Roast Grain Meat Apple-Sage sausage, crumbled (OR 1 1/2 cups crumbled, cooked sausage of any sort/brand you prefer)

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1/4 cup pine nuts

4 Tablespoons olive oil

Wipe mushrooms clean with damp cloth. Wild mushrooms might require a soft brush or quick rinse to remove debris.

Pop the stems out of the Portabello mushrooms. Chop the stems fine, or use a food processor to chop along with sausage and onions, but be careful not to let mixture become a paste. There should be texture remaining.

Add mushroom stems, wild mushrooms, onions and crumbled sausage to pan with 1-2 tablespoons olive oil. Saute until mushrooms are soft. Just before removing from heat, add garlic.

Mix vegetable-sausage mixture with the prepared stuffing.

Stuff mixture into mushroom caps. (If too dry to pack firmly, add a little vegetable broth to mixture)

Firmly mound up mixture in each mushroom. It will shrink as it bakes.

Sprinkle (press) a few pine nuts on top of stuffing on each mushroom. Put in baking dish, drizzle a little olive oil around. Bake for 30 min at 375 until mushrooms look softened and cooked. If your final dinner preparations require the oven being at a lower temperature, just cook them for a little longer at a lower temperature.

Ginger- Cranberry Baked Apple Pastries

6 small Honecrisp apples, peeled and cored (see note)

3 sheets puff pastry, thawed

1/4 cup granulated sugar

2 tablespoons corn starch

1 teaspoon apple pie spice

1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup dried cranberries

1/4 cup chopped hazelnuts

2 tablespoons whole oats

1/4 cup maple syrup

1 tablespoon candied ginger, minced finely

2 tablespoons melted margarine

1/4 cup soy milk

1/4 cup coarse or raw sugar or baking crystals

Note: When coring apples, don’t core all the way, leaving the bottom on the apple so the filling doesn't leak.

Heat the oven to 400 degrees.

Mix the white sugar, cornstarch, apple pie spice, ginger and salt in a shallow dish.

Take the peeled and cored apples and roll them in the sugar mixture.

Mix the cranberries, nuts, oats, syrup, candied ginger and margarine in a small bowl.

Set aside.

Place the pastry sheets on a lightly floured surface.

They're easier to work with if they're just barely thawed, so work quickly.

Roll each pastry sheet into a 10-by-9 inch rectangle. Cut each into 6 equal-width strips.

Moisten ends with water and then press 3 pastry strips together to make 1 long strip.

Repeat to make 6 long strips total. Cut 12 leaf shapes from the leftover pastry.

Set back in freezer to chill briefly if dough becomes overly soft.

Now wrap the apples in the pastry.

Starting at the bottom, wind 1 pastry strip around 1 apple, slightly overlapping the edges of the pastry.

Leave top open.

Repeat with the remaining pastry strips and apples.

Stuff a tablespoon or so of cranberry-nut mixture in each apple.

Brush soymilk over each apple pastry. Top each apple with 2 pastry leaf cut-outs.

Sprinkle with coarse sugar.

Place the baking sheet with the wrapped apples in the freezer for 20-30 minutes (but not longer, so as to not freeze the apples) to harden the puff pastry. Do not skip this step, otherwise the pastry will slide off the apples.

Once the puff pastry is very chilled or frozen, place the baking sheet in the oven and bake for 25 minutes, until puffy and golden.

Cool for 10 minutes before serving with ice cream.

Source: Adapted from a recipe from Pepperidge Farms.

Roasted Root Veggies

2 pounds small purple and yellow fingerling potatoes

2 red and/or orange beets

4 orange and/or purple carrots

3 small parsnips

1 turnip or rutabaga

1 sweet potato or yam, cubed in 1-inch or smaller pieces

5-7 small cippolini onions, peeled, halved or quartered, depending on size

6 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed a bit

Handful fresh rosemary, thyme and sage leaves, coarsely chopped

Sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Olive oil

Heat oven to 400 degrees.

Scrub well but don't peel the vegetables. Chop carrots, beets, turnip and parsnips into equal aprox 1 1/2 inch chunks.

Cook beets in small pan boiling water about 10 minutes.

While beets are cooking, put the fingerling potatoes and carrots into a large pan of boiling water on a high heat, bring back to a boil.

Allow to boil for 3 minutes, then add the parsnips and turnips and cook for another 4 minutes.

Drain in a colander and allow to steam dry about 5 min or until you can touch them.

Sort out the carrots, turnips and parsnips and put to one side.

Now “rough up” the potatoes in the colander by tossing them around a little — you want them to have all those lovely crispy bits on the skins when they’re cooked.

Put all the parboiled vegetables, plus sweet potato cubes on to one or two sheet pans. Add a good pinch of salt and pepper, several tablespoons of olive oil and the herbs.

Stir them well to coat, and spread out evenly into one layer, so they roast, and not steam.

Put pans into the preheated oven.

Bake 30 minutes, remove from oven and add onions. Stir well.

Bake another 20 minutes or so. Remove from oven, add crushed garlic, stir again.

Bake another 5 to 15 minutes until golden and crisp.

Serve as is, or with gravy.