Why You Should Serve a German Vesper Board for Dinner

CC BY 2.0. Miriam Ramos

Think antipasto spread, but with so much more than meat and cheese.

There are few things in life as delightful as a well-constructed charcuterie board. When a perfect balance of crunchy, salty, creamy, wet, and dry is achieved, the effect is as memorable as it is delicious. But sometimes in life, even the greatest things need to be shaken up a bit and given a dash of variety. Enter the German 'vesper board,' described as "a feast of small bites that spares the host the heat of the kitchen and affords more time for apéritif sipping." Sign me up!

Vesper, in German, refers to a snack or 'in-between' meal for adults, to keep their energy up. From German Culture, "[A vesper] is meant to be eaten in addition to the main meal to fill one up during work hours." Based on my research, it sounds quite similar to the traditional German dinner, or Abendbrot, which is made by assembling ingredients and serving them cold. (The main meal is usually served at lunch.) The biggest difference seems to be that the former is served sometime between lunch and dinner, and the latter after 6.

Either way, the Germans make a point of cooking less while eating well and know how to put on a fantastic snack spread that can hold its own against any fancy tapas, mezze, or antipasto platters you might encounter.

An article in The Kitchn about German-style dinner likens it to visiting your local wine bar -- and who doesn't love that idea?

"With a great fresh loaf of dark, whole-grain bread, a collection of cheeses, and sliced meats like cured ham and mortadella, Abendbrot feels like ordering the cheese plate at your favorite wine bar and then feeling no guilt about letting that be dinner."

Others point out that a vesper board is kid-friendly. One parent wrote,

"I noticed my son was always much more open to eating healthy foods when he could choose the foods for himself, rather than being served a pre-filled plate, so he would naturally eat more veggies and fruits this way. Plus, there’s just something really fun and relaxing about eating dinner with your hands, without using utensils, so we would always end up having the best conversations on those nights."

So, what goes into building a delectable vesper board, regardless of the hour at which you're digging in?

Unsurprisingly, given the country we're talking about, cured meats and sausages are a staple, as are cheeses, but there's also an emphasis on other things, like breads, pickled or marinated vegetables, and such. This opens a door of opportunity for vegetarians and vegans, who can assemble a fabulous snack board minus the cheese and meat. Claire Lower writes in Lifehacker,

"When you quit focusing on charcuterie and fancy cheeses, two things happen. First, you get much more creative with your snacks. Second, you end up eating a lot more pickles. Instead of thinking 'would pickled onions go good with this cheese?' one thinks 'what creamy thing would play well with these pickled onions?'"

Here are some vegetarian ideas to get you started. (There is some fish in the list.) These suggestions do not remain entirely true to the traditional German model, but are inspired by the idea of eating cold, light finger-foods in place of a heavier hot meal, so please forgive the culinary license.

Fried potatoes, like rosti
- Whole grain breads with mustard
- Baguette slices
- Radishes with butter and salt
- Pickled onions, cornichons, beets, carrots
- Labneh drizzled with olive oil and za'atar
- Olives
- Tins of small fish or smoked trout
- Dried fruits, such as figs, apricots, dates
- Fresh fruits, such as pear and apple slices, grapes
- Slices of boiled potato, dipped in creme fraîche with chives
- Cheesy puff pastry twists
- Fresh tomato wedges or cherry tomatoes
- Oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes
- Roasted asparagus
- Roasted red pepper spread
- Green onions dipped in salt
- Hard-boiled eggs

Crack a bottle of wine and toast to the easiest, most delectable meal in town. Guten appetit!