Last Updated on 2 years by Tim
The most popular spaetzle dish outside of Germany might be cheese spaetzle but there’s a much better way to enjoy them. Spaetzle served together with a rich lentil stew accompanied by a satisfying Vienna sausage. What was once a poor man’s meal is now the signature dish of Swabia.
The love for lentil stew with spaetzle isn’t universally shared among all Germans. You won’t find this dish outside of the Swabia region. It’s a local delicacy that a lot of people dismiss because it doesn’t look very appetizing.
This was one of the first recipes that I have shared on my blog and it was in the need of an update. I didn’t change the recipe drastically but made a few small tweaks. The recipe now specifies to use celeriac rather than celery stalks but it’s really up to your preference which one you prefer. I also noticed that the amount of vinegar the recipe called for was too little. I now specify to season the stew to taste and give you two tablespoons of vinegar as a rough estimate. Besides that, I took new pictures to present the dish in a more appealing way.
Lentil cultivation in Swabia – The ‘Alb-Leisa’
The traditional lentil variety used for this dish is called ‘Alb-Leisa’. It is dark green and will hold its shape when cooked over a long period of time. In the old days, Swabia lacked fertile soils, so the only thing left to grow on the Swabian mountains were lentils. During its peak time in 1864, over 4 500 ha of lentils were planted all across the old German empire.
Because of fluctuating yields and the high effort required for drying and cleaning them, the lentil production has dropped to less than 200 ha today. Since 1985 there’s an increased effort to increase the lentil production again. However, today there are only two areas left for growing lentils in Germany: The Swabian mountains and the Lower Bavaria region.
Outside of Germany, it is nearly impossible to get your hands on some real ‘Alb-Leisa’ lentils. Puy or mountain lentils are great substitutes and commonly used to prepare this dish, even in Swabia. Whichever lentil variety you chose, make sure that it is a dark variety (green or brown) that will hold its shape and texture when stewed over a long period of time. You don’t want the lentils to completely disintegrate into the stewing liquid (a little is fine, but you don’t want the finished dish to resemble porridge).
The lentils should be soaked in water at least four hours prior to cooking. This will ensure they cook evenly, make them easier to digest, and cut down the cooking time a little.
These aromatics go into my lentil stew
My recipe for lentil stew with spaetzle contains all the typical aromatics. Onions, leeks, bacon, carrots, celeriac, bay leaf, tomato paste, and red wine (use a Swabian ‘Trollinger’ if you can source it). However, I also added my own little twists. You won’t find any garlic or chili in many of the traditional recipes. Most German’s aren’t fond of spicy food, and because it is used so sparingly, can’t handle the heat.
In the old days, the usage of garlic was low as well. Probably because of its pungent smell which many people frown upon. Times have changed since the invention of this dish and so have the taste buds of the German population. With the broad array of ethnic foods available today, the usage of garlic and chili is on the rise. So why shouldn’t they find their way into some German classics?
The grated potato which I add to the stew serves the purpose of thickening it. As the potato pieces cook inside the stew, they will release some of their starch into the cooking water. This will give the stew a more luxurious mouthfeel and great consistency. The basic ratio of liquid to lentils is 3:1. If more liquid is required, add it in batches little by little, as you don’t want to end up with lentil soup. There’s also the option to remove the lid from the pot to let some more water evaporate if your stew turns out too thin.
When it comes to seasoning this dish, there are only two things you need to remember. First, add salt at the very end. Adding in the salt before the lentils are tender will increase their cooking time. Second, add in more vinegar than you usually would. This dish needs acidity. Chose a high-quality red wine vinegar, which will impart fruitiness and cut through the richness.
What to serve the lentil stew with
It’s obvious from the name of this dish that the lentils are served alongside spaetzle. Other than that a Vienna sausage, some mustard, as well as some crème fraîche (ok, the crème fraîche is my own little addition) are common condiments.
The Vienna sausage can either be warmed through inside the stew or separately in hot water. Whichever method you choose, make sure the water or stew doesn’t boil as the sausages will burst open otherwise. Once the stew is done, turn off the heat, add the sausages, cover the pot, and wait five more minutes until the sausages are warmed through. If you can’t source Vienna sausages, substitute them with either hot dog or Frankfurter sausages. If you’d like to know more about Vienna sausages, check out my potato soup recipe, which contains some more background info.