At the beginning of the year, I always like to share a healthier alternative for a traditional food. Over the last few years, I've shared recipes for salmon patties; broccoli; pork chops; Mozzarella cheese sticks. I want to share a recipe this January too, but we're going to have to take a little detour.
During the 2014-15 school year, my family hosted a foreign exchange student from Germany named Simon. We enjoyed getting to know this fine young man and learning about his country's customs and culture. In exchange, he was able to experience life in an American family, attend an American high school and try American food. He was a good sport about trying and eating new foods, but after a few months he started missing the food from home. When he arrived, he'd given me a German cookbook as a present. At the time, I had him mark the recipes he liked with sticky notes and told him at some point during his stay I'd fix a German meal. When that day arrived, the first thing he wanted me to fix was schnitzel.
Schnitzel -- a thin slice of meat dipped in eggs, coated with bread crumbs and fried -- is the German equivalent of American chicken fried steak or country fried steak. Although I'd never eaten German food before, I had heard of wiener schnitzel which is made with veal, a meat we don't eat. Simon told me schnitzel could be made with other meats, including pork which is what his family used.
Not long after that, Simon helped me interpret the recipe in the cookbook, putting it together with the way he remembered his grandmother fixing schnitzel. We coated boneless pork chops in flour, dipped them in eggs and then coated them in plain bread crumbs. Staying true to the recipe, we fried -- not my preferred cooking method -- the pork chops in canola oil. Unfortunately, they didn't taste like the schnitzel he ate in Germany, but like pork chops cooked in an American home.
A few weeks later, I decided to surprise Simon with schnitzel, but I changed a couple of things. Instead of using pork chops, I sliced a pork tenderloin into pieces and pounded them flat.
I coated the pieces with flour, dipped them in eggs and coated them with bread crumbs, just like I did the first time. Instead of frying them, though, I baked them in the oven. Simon said the schnitzel was much better than my first attempt, but it needed more seasoning. He looked through my spice rack, smelling some of the spices, until he found what he was looking for: garlic powder and Italian seasoning. When he showed me those spices, I knew exactly how I was going to make the schnitzel.
One cold winter night, Simon burst through the kitchen door, stopped and exclaimed, "It smells good in here!" What he smelled was my American version of schnitzel. Since he liked the schnitzel made with pork tenderloin, I used it again, but decided to coat it with the same ingredients I use when I make Chicken Parmesan. I omitted the flour completely and dipped the pork in eggs and then a mixture of Italian bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, Italian seasoning and garlic powder before baking it in the oven. Simon loved it and ate with gusto that night!
I don't know if my version could really be called schnitzel since some of the ingredients and the baking method are different. Regardless of what you'd call it, two things are certain. One, it's delicious. Two, it's a healthy entree since it's baked not fried.
I look forward to trying German cuisine -- including schnitzel -- when we go to Germany later this year. The thing I look forward to the most, though, is seeing Simon again. I can't wait to see how much he's grown and give him something he hasn't had since he left last June: a hug from his American mother!
Update: After this was posted, Simon texted me and said he didn't mind me using his name in the article. I've revised the copy, replacing "our student" with "Simon." I also included his name in the recipe title. The rest of the entry remains unchanged.
1 cup dry Italian bread crumbs
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 1/4 tsp. Italian seasoning
1 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
Beat the eggs in a bowl; set aside. In another bowl, combine the bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, Italian seasoning and garlic powder. Dip each piece of meat in the eggs and then coat both sides thoroughly with the bread crumb mixture. Place meat on a greased cookie sheet. Bake at 375° for 10 minutes. Turn meat over; bake 12 minutes more, or until thoroughly cooked.