Souvenir Recipes from Switzerland

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Bircher muesli is a healthy recipe created by a doctor.
Bircher muesli (Photo by Keri White)

Earlier this year, I visited Switzerland and, of course, ate my fair share of chocolate.

The fabulous tasting tour in Geneva given by a local expert was a chocolate highlight, (localflavourstours.com). It consisted of a five-hour crash course in the history of Switzerland through chocolate and tasting visits to six amazing chocolate shops.

But the two dishes that have stayed with me and compelled me to re-create them stateside contained nary a morsel of cacao.

One that I continue to crave is the ubiquitous Swiss breakfast of bircher muesli — the great-grandmother to today’s “overnight oats.”

The other is a simple green salad that I enjoyed in two different very typical Swiss restaurants — a fondue place and a steak frites establishment. The salad comprises simple greens like Boston, bibb or butter lettuce dressed in a sublime Dijon vinaigrette pureed to a creamy texture.

Given the current global health crisis, who knows when we will be able to travel again and savor these foods in their native lands? But at least we can enjoy the culinary treasures of other countries in our own kitchens with minimal effort.

Bircher Meusli

Serves 4

This dish dates to the turn of the last century. It was invented by Maximilian Bircher-Benner, an influential Swiss physician who created the dish for patients at his Zurich sanatorium. Bircher-Benner was a big proponent of the health benefits of raw fruits, hence the addition of a grated apple, and he advocated the consumption of this mixture as an optimal breakfast or pre-meal appetizer.

This version is said to be the original, traditional recipe, but countless variations exist today. It can be tailored to virtually any preference.

Use a nondairy milk; soak the oats in apple juice or milk instead of water or skip the soaking all together; use pears or berries in addition to apples; add seeds such as chia, flaxseed or sunflower; add pumpkin, dried fruit, coconut, maple syrup or cinnamon; or use orange or grapefruit juice in place of lemon juice.

The possibilities are nearly endless. This basic recipe allows for plenty of variation; feel free to add yogurt or more milk to achieve the desired texture.

  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 apple, skin on, grated
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • ⅓ cup chopped nuts
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • ½ cup milk

Soak the oats in water overnight.

Just before serving, grate the apple and add it to the oats; sprinkle with lemon and mix.

Add the remaining ingredients, mix well and serve.

 Green salad with dijon dressing
Green salad with dijon dressing (Photo by Keri White)

Green Salad with Dijon Dressing

This salad is as simple as it is delicious. Since returning home, we have enjoyed it with flounder, meatloaf and chicken soup. The dressing makes enough for at least three salads, so even though it means you have to clean the blender, it provides you with plenty for future use. The restaurants I visited served this salad with the rinsed greens pulled from the head and not chopped or torn. It makes a nice presentation and even less work for the cook.

If plain lettuce is not enough of a “salad” for your crew, this dressing complements pretty much any combo — we added tomato, cucumber and avocado one evening and it was a hit, but it would also work well with apple/nut/cheese/raisin additions or, really, just about anything.

The dressing:

Makes about ½ cup dressing, enough for three salads

  • 1 small clove shallot,
    cut in chunks
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 1½ tablespoon Dijon mustard (smooth, not grainy)
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper

The salad:

  • 1 large or 2 small heads bibb lettuce (Boston/butter lettuce), rinsed

In a blender or mini food processor, blend all the dressing ingredients until smooth and creamy.

Rinse and separate lettuce leaves, ensure that they are relatively dry, and place in salad bowl.

Toss about 2 tablespoons of dressing over the salad and enjoy.

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