Gemütlichkeit, the German word for coziness, is what you felt when came to our house on Castle Rock Road in Nolan’s Point. From the relaxed décor to the fire in the wood-burning stove, to the smells from the kitchen, to hearing the warm friendly voices in conversation from the living room; everything made you feel good right when you came through the door.
Savoring a bowl of linsensuppe, or lentil soup, was the culinary equivalent to a warm hug from my mother. Thick, hearty and delicious, this soup always made us feel good. Lentil soup was something to look forward to after spending a frigid morning frolicking on the frozen lake. And frolic we did - if there was good black ice we would ice skate for miles, watch ice boating regattas and visit Horst (my dad) and his buddies ice fishing. If the lake were snow covered, my brother, Harry, would tow us on our cross-country skis behind his snowmobile, “cracking the whip” and sending us tumbling across the ice. My brother, Frank, and I would rig a makeshift sail out of a bed sheet and sail down the lake on our ice skates, holding our “sail” by the four corners, catching the wind.
We didn’t get as much company in the winter as we did in the summer, but those that were brave enough to venture up to the lake were rewarded with lots of fun activities and a delicious steaming bowl of linsensuppe when it was time to come inside.
A note about the ingredients: Leeks are key to making this soup taste so good. They look like gigantic scallions and most supermarkets carry them year-round. Don’t substitute onions as they add a sweet flavor that does not work in this recipe. I buy 4 -6 leeks at a time, clean them well, chop, blanch, and freeze them in muffin tins. I then pop them into zipper freezer bags so that I always have a stash on hand.
A ham bone and 2 cups of diced ham, a Boston smoked pork butt or kielbasa all work well as the meat ingredient. I like a ham bone for the richness it adds to the stock.
Large or small green lentils can be used. Be sure to carefully pick them over checking for small stones. You’d be surprised at how many times I have found them in packages of lentils from the grocery store. Don’t risk ruining anyone’s dental work.
Freshly made spätzle are wonderful in linsensuppe, but a cup of dry pasta, such as ditalini, or more potatoes can be substituted.
1 boneless smoked pork butt (3 - 4 lb.) – or a big ham bone plus 2 cups diced ham, or 2-3 pounds of kielbasa, cut into spoon-sized chunks
1 cup leeks, cleaned and diced
3/4 cup carrots (1 medium-sized carrot), small dice
2 stalks celery with leaves, small dice
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1/2 pkg. lentils, picked over for small stones
1-tablespoon kosher salt
3 small or 1 large diced potato
1 recipe of spätzle, see below
Fill a large soup kettle with about 1 gallon of cold water, adding in the meat.
Bring to a boil, then simmer about 45 min. Add vegetables, lentils and garlic (but not the potatoes), simmering until lentils soften, about another 30 to 45 min. Add the diced potatoes and cook for 10 minutes, then add the pasta or spätzle to the simmering soup. The soup is ready to serve in about 5 minutes when the spätzle “swim”, i.e. when they float to the surface.
Spätzle: (pronounced shpetz-leh)
1 cup flour
1/3-1/2 cup water
Put the flour in a bowl. Sprinkle some salt over the flour. Drop a beaten egg into the flour and stir, adding water just until you have very stickily wet dough. Drop the spätzle into the simmering soup by using either an official Spätzlebrett, which looks like a cheese grater and is used with a metal scraper, or pressing the dough through a potato ricer, or putting the dough onto a wooden cutting board and slicing bits of the dough into the soup with a butter knife. When adding to soup, drop the spätzle directly into the soup and cook them until they “swim”, or float to the surface. If making spätzle as a side dish, double (or triple) this recipe and cook them in boiling salted water, until they swim (see the following videos).
This is a classic German Oma making spätzle using the cutting board method:
Here is a helpful German infomercial:
*Clean up note: use cold water to rinse out bowl & clean up your Spätzle utensils – it makes the clean up a breeze!