Because most of my experience in Germany has been in the Southern half of the country, I often believe that all German food is as delicious as it is here in the region of Swabia. Occasionally, we venture North on vacation and I realize with disappointment that this isn’t true. Perhaps it’s a general European rule: the farther South you travel, the better the food. One dish that consistently gets the longest lines in every corporate cafeteria is the classic Swabian Linsen mit Spätzle (Lentils with Noodles). I have tried making this at home a number of times in the last ten years, but never with the amount of success I had this week. Here for you to recreate in your own kitchen is an admittedly imprecise recipe for this German favorite. I suspect that imprecision was the trick to perfection.
Linsen mit Spätzle
serves 4 (or 2 adults and 2 little kids, with leftovers)
75g cubed bacon
2 medium onions, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 carrot, diced
375g small brown lentils
1 bay leaf
1.5-2 L vegetable broth
1-2 t ground paprika
3-4 T tomato paste
glug of red wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
200g flour (I use type 550 but there is also special flour available for Spätzle)
1/2 t salt
75 – 125 mL water, as needed
Wiener Würstchen (hot dogs), 4-8 from a package, depending on how hungry of a crowd you need to serve
Sometime in the afternoon:
Brown the bacon bits in a dutch oven over medium-high heat. When crisp, add the onions, garlic and carrot and cook, stirring regularly, until onions are translucent. Add the paprika and stir for another minute or two. Add the lentils, stir to mix, then add the broth and bay leaf. Bring to a boil then remove from stove and put in a hot (160°C?) oven for a while. Forget about it for most of the afternoon, stir occasionally and add more liquid if necessary. Turn off the oven after an hour or so.
When you are ready to prepare dinner:
Put the dutch oven back on the stove and add the tomato paste. Adjust the heat as necessary to reduce the mixture and make a thick stew. When it is the right consistency, add a splash of red wine vinegar and salt & pepper to taste.
Warm the Würstchen (hot dogs) in a pot of hot water. Do not boil or simmer them as they just need to heat through but are prone to explosion if heated too severely.
Put water on to boil in a large pot. Throw in some salt.
Dump the Spätzle ingredients together in a bowl and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until you have a thick, smooth batter. Thicker than pancake batter, and stickier. It should have air bubbles in it. Let it rest while the water boils. The batter should bubble on its own.
When the water is boiling, put the Spätzlepresse on top of the pot and squeeze through a batch of batter. The noodles are done when they float to the top. Scoop them out with a slotted spoon and make the next batch. This part is super fun! I have heard of other methods involving scraping the Spätzle off a cutting board, but I can’t see how that would work with this thick syrupy batter, so I’m happy with this method. If other die-hard Spätzle fans have instructed you to use another method, please feel free.
Combine the noodles, lentils and hot dogs into a glorious pile on your plate and enjoy with a good beer. My beer of choice at the moment: Wulle. Made in Stuttgart, perfect size bottle, great pop-top, and I like the taste.
*Of course you can also cheat and buy packaged Spätzle, but they actually take longer to cook than it takes to make them from scratch.