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After three-and-a-half decades I visited Switzerland.
In June 2006 I was back in Heidi’s land, this time for a real-life adventure. I was mesmerized by its classic wooden chalets, perfectly kept window boxes, grazing cows, high alpine meadows bursting with wildflowers, imposing mountains with hanging glaciers, breathtaking peaks cloaked in shawls of massive ice and snow, and impressive waterfalls. The meadows rang with the chime of cowbells. I felt as if I was in a beautiful picture postcard. Without a doubt, Mother Nature has been very generous to Switzerland.
Wengen, a quaint village near Jungfrau, is Switzerland’s best-kept secret. It has about 1,400 inhabitants. In the winter high season, however, there are more than 10,000 visitors and in the summer about 5,000. The visitor’s first view of this area is guaranteed to be through a train window, as rail is the only way to get to this fairy-tale village perched on the side of a massive valley in Switzerland’s Bernese Oberland. In the mid-1880s, Wengen opened its Wengernalp Railway (WAB), the only route into the resort. There are no public roads even today and cars are not allowed. To this day it retains its old-world charm.
Wengen is a wonderful place to unwind after a day on the slopes, be it strolling the car-less streets, enjoying the sunshine, or just soaking up the breathtaking views. Its quaint inns are devoid of luxury, but with their charm and ambience offer more than just accommodation. Here I found total relaxation and leisure time to breathe deeply and marvel at the simple things in life, which make Switzerland so wonderful.
Here is a recipe inspired by a memorable dinner I had at an inn—a delightful combination of rosti and vegetables in saffron sauce.
Rosti is the Swiss cousin of American hash browns. It is a wonderful combination of crisp and soft textures. The original recipe calls for two tablespoons of butter or oil. I added cheese to bind the whole mix together and thus reduce the need for butter. I added corn, nuts, and chilies to give it a boost of nutrition and flavor.
2 potatoes, baked
1 corn, boiled
1 teaspoon peanuts (optional)
1 tablespoon cheese, grated
1–2 green chilies, minced
1 teaspoon cilantro
1 teaspoon oil
salt to taste
Peel the baked potatoes and grate them coarsely. Keep aside. Grate the boiled corn. Add peanuts, cheese, chilies, cilantro, and corn to the grated potatoes. Mix gently.
On a hot pan, smear ¼ teaspoon oil. Put half a cup of the mix in the pan and spread with a spatula. Cook on medium heat for 4-5 minutes till it is a deep golden brown. Carefully flip it and cook the other side. Repeat with the rest of the mix.
Serve piping hot.
VEGETABLES WITH SAFFRON SAUCE
1 cup zucchini, chopped
1 cup carrots, chopped
1 cup cauliflower florets
2 teaspoons butter
1½ tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
4-5 saffron strands crushed coarsely
salt and pepper to taste
Add the chopped vegetables in a pot of boiling water for 3-5 minutes. Drain water and keep aside.
Melt the butter in a medium-sized saucepan. Stir in flour to make a paste and cook over medium heat for 2 minutes. Stir continuously to prevent the paste from turning brown. Remove pan from heat and whisk in hot milk. Return pan to medium high heat and whisk continuously, especially along sides and bottom to prevent lumps. Season with saffron, salt, and pepper. Simmer for 4-5 minutes. Remove from heat and add vegetables.
Serve this aromatic vegetable entrée with masala rosti.
Hema Alur-Kundargi is the producer, editor, and host of a television show, Indian Vegetarian Gourmet.