Schmorgurken (stewed cucumbers) is a traditional German dish that originated in East Prussia (now Russia). It sounds quite odd and probably not very appealing for people who never had it – a stew of cucumbers, apples, tomatoes, and Hamburger meat – but I assure you, it tastes very good (and there’s bacon in it!)
My mother’s family came from Pommerania. The cuisine of East Prussia (now Russia), and Pommerania (now Poland) was hearty and not overly refined (people were poor), but tasty and satisfying. Dishes like Schmorgurken, Dicke Bohnen mit Hack (Lima beans with ground meat), and Heringssalat (herring salad) were served in our family, too.
My Omi was the nicest grandmother I can imagine. Fleeing with her youngest children from the Russian occupation of Stettin, she came to Hamburg where two daughters already lived, and took care of a grandchild that refused to be weaned, and spit out any solid food she was fed.
She was a very good cook, and when I was older (and more appreciative of solid food), she taught me how to cook scrambled eggs, prepare drip coffee (never forget the pinch of salt!) and bake Christmas cookies.
Fortunately, I asked her to write down some of my favorite recipes, and this is one:
85 g/3 oz bacon (about 3 slices), cubed
2 tsp. olive oil
1 yellow onion, peeled, chopped
200 g/7 oz mixed ground meat (Hamburger or meatloaf mixture)
salt and black pepper, to taste
500 g/ 17.6 oz pickling cucumbers*), peeled
3/4 medium apple, halved, cored, cut in chunks
400 g/14 oz fresh or canned whole tomatoes, puréed
150 ml/5 fl. oz vegetable or chicken broth
1/2 tsp. sugar
1 1/2 tbsp. balsamico vinegar
2-3 tbsp chopped dill, for serving
30 g/1 oz/1/4 cup sour cream, or more, for serving
*) don’t use English cucumbers, they have too many seeds and are too watery
Cut cucumbers in half lengthwise. Using teaspoon, remove seeds. Cut cucumber halves in 1/2-inch/1-cm chunks. Set aside.
In large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add bacon and cook until rendered and crisp. Using slotted spoon, transfer bacon to small bowl, and set aside.
Add onions to skillet, and sauté until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add ground meat, and cook, breaking up lumps with a fork, until browned, about 7-10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Add cucumbers and apple and cook for 3 – 5 minutes. Stir in tomato purée and broth. Reduce heat to low, and cook until cucumbers are translucent, about 5 minutes.
Season cucumber stew with sugar and vinegar, and cook for another 10 minutes. Remove from heat.
Stir in sour cream and dill to taste.
Traditionally, Schmorgurken are served with potatoes.