December 07, 2013
Linseneintopf - German Lentil Stew
I enjoy walking through supermarkets, especially when I am in a different food culture. There is a lot of information inherent in the selections available in each market, and even in the variety of markets themselves. Within a couple of weeks in my new town, I had determined a hierarchy of local markets in terms of the quantity and quality of items on offer, as well as the focus of each market - whether it offers more or less in the way of products especially formulated for the health-conscious shopper (such as organic foods, vegetarian or vegan options), or if it emphasizes volume/bulk purchasing, or rock bottom pricing (or any combination of those things).
There are the obvious benchmarks - how much shelf space is dedicated to fresh food, to snack food, sweet or savoury treats, whether or not alcohol is available in the markets (here in Germany one can purchase wine or beer in any grocery store or even the tiny corner market), and then there's the really interesting benchmark of ready-to-eat or heat-and-serve meals.
I immediately came face to face with the dominating presence of lentil stew, or Linseneintopf (also sometimes called Linsentopf). There are an astonishing array of brands from which to choose your lentil stew: in cans (of various sizes), in plastic, microwavable tubs (just peel off the lid), and in clear plastic chubs (snip and pour). You can get standard or organic, with or without sausages, in vegetarian, vegan, poultry, or meat. If you want meat sausages, you can choose between ones with mettenden, bockwurst, wieners, or any number of other meaty bits. No matter how exclusive or low-rent the supermarket is, you will find plenty of lentil stew options for your perusal.
Once I realized how prevalent (if not pervasive) this dish is here, my next stop was the bookstore. Of course, bookstores aren't usually big on the canned goods, and here is no exception, but bookstores do have cookbooks. The cookbooks touting local cuisine, or having names that suggest "Grandma's Kitchen" or tag lines "comfort food" or "childhood favourites" all contained recipes for lentil stew. The most surprising thing is how similar the recipes are. Apart from the wildcard of which lentil (or combinations of lentils) to use, I've really only encountered one truly heterodox iteration - "red" (rote linseneintopf), which includes tomato paste and/or diced tomatoes. I don't think the schism is as significant as the American "clam chowder divide" but I have yet to encounter any strong opinions on the subject.
I've only tried one of the supermarket offerings - it was very salty, which is a common failing of heat and serve foods everywhere, but particularly problematic here, if only because there sadly does not appear to be any labelling requirement for salt. Some products seem to include the salt value, but it is by no means universal. Still, other than the saltiness, I liked the dish quite a bit, so I decided to pursue the recipe. After a lot of label-reading and recipe reviewing, I went with a fairly simple recipe that combined the best elements of the various iterations I discovered. It's very simple, and reasonably quick
Linseneintopf - German Lentil Stew
Serves 4 (makes approximately 10 cups)
250 grams dry brown lentils
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, diced small
2 medium carrots, diced small
3/4 cup diced-small celeriac (or celery)
2 bay leaves
pinch of marjoram
4 cups vegetable (or chicken) broth, or water
2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced small
pinch kosher salt
1 tablespoon vinegar, or more to taste (I used white wine vinegar)
2 sausages, diced (I used bockwurst)
Fresh parsley (optional)
Wash and pick over the lentils. In a dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Saute the onion, celeriac and carrot briefly. When onion turns translucent, add the bay leaves, marjoram (you can substitute oregano if need be) and pinch of salt. If you are using water instead of broth, increase the salt to a half teaspoon. Add the (washed, drained) lentils, the broth (or water), and bring to a bare simmer. Cover and simmer gently for 20 minutes. Stir, add the diced potatoes, and continue to simmer for another 15 minutes, or until potatoes are tender (use a fork to test). Add the sausage, and continue to cook until the sausage is heated through. Stir in the vinegar to taste, and if necessary, add a small pinch of sugar to balance the flavours. Finish with with freshly ground black pepper and minced fresh parsley. Serve with bread.
This stew was very hearty, satisfying, and delicious, and is going into our rotation.