‘The hills are alive with the sound of music.’
Three years ago I boarded a train in Krakow, Poland and headed south to Graz, Austria to my friend Eva’s hometown for a ski holiday. It was a nice break going from numbingly cold to refreshingly chilly. I was greeted by a relaxed and charming student city nestled between beautiful mountains, rivers and bike paths. We set off early in the morning to the ski station where we rented a cabin literally situated on one of the ski runs for one full week of powdery snow bliss.
We set off early the next morning to the ski station where we rented a cabin literally situated on one of the ski runs for one week of powdery snow bliss. Now, before you get an image of some posh ski-in cabin, I must clarify. I felt like I had somehow found what was the original mountain cabin. We were a huge group of about 22 Austrians, one English and myself. We took turns in groups cooking and cleaning for every meal and there was no CD, television or DVD player. So we played lots of board games, there were guitar players for music (which was all quite interesting since most of it was in German) and I learned some very important phrases in German like ‘I’m thirsty for a radler’ (beverage similar to a shandy or panaché). It was an amazing time.
During this trip I made a personal culinary discovery of Kernöl oil which comes directly from the region we were visiting called Styria. In English we call it pumpkin seed oil. Dark greenish-brown in color, it’s appearance makes no apologies. This aromatic oil pours thick and is rich in nutty and buttery flavors. I learned from the Austrians that this oil is a regional delicacy and we can top just about anything with kernol (salads, soups, potatoes and even vanilla ice cream). The gourmand that I am, I was thinking to myself ‘seriously how have I never had this before?.’ Well the answer to that is quite simple actually. Ninety percent of the oil produced is consumed in Austria but that percentage is quickly changing and this oil can now be found in a number of specialty grocery stores world-wide and can be ordered straight from Austrian producers online.
This oil is high in vitamins A, D and E and was once used as a folk cure in Styria.
Although this oil can be eaten and topped on many different foods, it should not be heated or used for cooking as it contains essential fatty acids that are easily broken down in heat.
One of the simplest and common ways to use pumpkinseed oil is on salad. In Austria we often ate salad with a mix of onions and potatoes topped with pumpkinseed oil and cider vinegar. In this recipe I swapped regular potatoes for sweet potatoes.
4 cups Mesclun (or any preferred salad)
2 cups of roasted sweet potato cut into large pieces
1/2 medium onion – chopped
2 Tablespoons toasted pumpkin seeds (or preferred nuts)
Styrian salad sauce (add oil directly to salad first, then add cider vinegar)
3 Tablespoons pumpkinseed oil
1 Tablespoon Cider vinegar
*1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Thank you Eva and the Hagar family for your warm hospitality.