Tasty Tuesday or in which I try to match my Mother-in-law’s cooking. As always, first off the ingredients, then it’s story time complete with pictures.
14 oz. lentils (like 2 cups); water (enough to cover the lentils); 2 bay leaves; 1 ½ oz. smoked lean bacon; ½ cup flour; 1 onion; 1 carrot; 1 leek (white and light green parts only); wine and chicken broth together about 1 cup; 2 tablespoons wine vinegar; salt and pepper; Spätzle (1 lb. flour, pinch of nutmeg and cinnamon, 4-5 eggs, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/3-1/2 cup water (to regulate consistency), 1 teaspoon oil plus more to coat a bowl to hold the finished spätzle); Wiener sausages
Pot to cook lentils, large skillet, pot of boiling water to cook the spätzle, potato ricer to form spätzle
“So what exactly is Thanksgiving?” Martin asked. I was sitting in his usual seat around the dining table, now two deep to accommodate the entire family. The two tables were groaning with food. November 2017 Armin and I weren’t engaged yet, but it was clear that Angelika, seine Mutter, was rooting hard for us. I’d been plied with Swabian delicacies every day of the week, and now it was the third Thursday in November and my very German future in-laws were pulling out all the stops to give me a proper Thanksgiving, with a Germanic twist.
Apparently, I made a face out loud that didn’t need translation (translation was why I’d usurped Martin from his seat. 100 days of Duolingo German had in no way prepared me for actual conversation in German, let alone dialect). How does one even begin to explain Thanksgiving? It’s become so much more than the harvest festival it was in 1621. There’s so much mythology, baggage, football, and capitalism to unpack. I’m a grad student for heaven’s sake, training to be an expert in Early American history. I know WAY too much about Thanksgiving to be asked such a question. So, I dodged the question and reached for a second helping. Suddenly no one was asking about Thanksgiving.
“Are you sure?” Armin asked me.
“Yeah! This is DELICIOUS.”
Angelika preened but everyone was also watching me with rapt attention.
It became clear to me about ten minutes later when it hit me how filling the food was.
I felt like I was going to die.
And literally everyone laughed at me.
I think it brought us together as a family.
My Thanksgiving dinner was the Swabian dish, Linsen und Spätzle. And I loved it. Linsen und Spätzle, also known as Lentils and Spätzle (an egg pasta) served with bacon and sausages is perhaps one of my favorite things I’ve eaten in Germany. And it really is a homey, warm, filling dish perfect for cold weather.
For Christmas this year Armin got me a cookbook, specifically a Swabian cookbook written in both German and English. I love cookbooks so this was really the best present ever. And the second recipe in the book was Linsen und Spätzle.
Sunday it was cold as balls and I really don’t want to get my shit together for the start of the semester, so I decided to try my hand at making Linsen und Spätzle.
Step one in cooking is obviously getting the necessary ingredients. Most of the ingredients are straight forward and easy to get – lentils, bay leaves, bacon, flour, onion, carrots, leek, chicken broth, wine, wine vinegar, salt and pepper.
And then Wieners.
I’m an adult, I swear. But Wieners.
Wieners are another name for Vienna Sausages. In German Vienna is Wien and they have a specific sort of light sausage – the Wiener. Calling them Vienna sausages brings to mind those little wennies in a tin. And maybe I’m a snob but if given the choice between meat out of a can or meat out of the deli section I’ll take sausages that are similar but not exactly the same. Vienna sausages have all sorts of characteristics and in Germany but in America I don’t have access to the 1000 different, specific sausages they have in Germany/Austria, etc. in my local Gerbes. Now if I went to a butcher, I’m sure I could order some, but that requires talking to people. So instead I just went to the grocery store looking for basically a big hotdogs. And I found some, they were a mix of beef, chicken, and pork, finely ground and only lightly seasoned.
Making the Linsen and Saiten parts of dinner was easy. Step one, bring water to boil and cook the lentils for 45 minutes, add water as needed. Step two, fry diced up bacon until translucent (this takes longer than I have patience for to be perfectly honest). Brown flower in the rendered bacon fat until it’s brown like a roux. Add the chopped onion, carrot, and leek and cook with the bacon and flour. Add the cooked lentils, broth or broth/wine. Flavor with vinegar and cook thoroughly until it goes from soupy to thickened up. Season with salt and pepper.
While all this is going on bring some water to a boil (I used the same pot I cooked the lentils in) and pop the sausages in and simmer until cooked through, about 7-8 minutes.
Like I said, all of this was easy and straight forward. Making the spätzle was not. Making the spätzle was an ordeal. Not the dough, no the spätzle started out perfectly easy and innocent. Whisk together flour, salt, I added a bit of nutmeg and cinnamon (1/8tha teaspoon or less of each) in a large bowl. In a small bowl beat eggs before adding the to the dry mix then stir it all together until it looks like batter. A bit of water or milk on hand is useful in case the dough is too dry. If the dough is too wet, add more flour.
So far so good.
To cook the spätzle you get a pot of water boiling and then have the dough fall in, once the little dumpling noodles then rise to the surface they’re done and you can skim them off the top and throw them in an oiled bowl (so they don’t stick together). Traditionally spätzle is made with a special board. But my mother-in-law, and many others use a spätzle press which is basically a potato ricer. In fact, I think actually, Angelika uses a potato ricer as her spätzle press. Anyway, most people use a press. And this makes a lot of sense, the noodles come out reasonably uniform, you can make a lot in one go, and it’s easy to use.
I, however, don’t own a potato ricer or a spätzle board. What I have is a colander. Pushing the dough through the holes on the colander would make the little dumplings the right width and size. Perhaps a little on the small size, like doughy tears rather than noodles. It’s an easy enough fix, on paper, for when you don’t have a press. In reality making spätzle with a colander SUCKS. Seriously, don’t do it. It took forever, my hand cramped up, I burned myself on the pot, my glasses fogged up, and I probably wasted as much dough as I cooked. I won’t make spätzle again until I have a potato ricer. Never again. It sucked further because I’m in Columbia and my Dude is in Virginia, so I had no one to help me out. I might not have been as salty about it if I could hand the job off to him and/or have him do something else while I was working. I started cooking at like 5:30 and didn’t get to eat until after 8pm.
I told Armin that I wasn’t going to make spätzle again until I had a press, he immediately got on Amazon and sent me one. He loves spätzle. He was already a little pouty that I was making one of his favorite dishes without him there.
When I finally sat down to eat, I was relieved that it was almost as good as the first time I had it for Thanksgiving over a year ago. My mother-in-law still makes the best linsen und spätzle but with a bit more practice I think I can catch up. Thanks to Whatsapp I was able to send her some pictures and I did get the MIL seal of approval. So that’s something. I might not be able to speak German yet but I am on my way to cooking like one.