End-of-Winter Lentil Stew with Sweet Potatoes and Cabbage

bowl lentil stew sweet potato soup one-pot meal cabbage

I know T.S. Eliot thought April was the cruelest month, but in New York City, it’s March. The winter seems to be over, as daylight savings time kicks in and temperatures finally creep above freezing. You might even get a day or two … Continue reading

Spätzle with Beef Goulash

Goulash and spätzle

Last week in New York was bitterly cold, a genuine arctic chill descending on the city with scathing, raw cruelty. It gave new meaning to the familiar imagery of winter’s icy fingers stabbing through thick coats and beneath woolly hats. As dank and cold as Edinburgh was throughout last winter and well into spring and summer, its predictable and consistent chilliness felt like an unpleasant bruise. The teeth-chattering, breath-stealing freeze of lower Manhattan in January feels like a slap to the face—a series of them. Brrr.

When the weather forces me to hurry from place to place in an effort to lose as little body heat as possible, I like to use my time in the kitchen as a counterpoint and cook long, slow dishes full of flavor and warmth. I don’t mind standing over a hot stove when outside the wind is howling and the snow is swirling. In fact, the steam rising from a pot of boiling water creates a humidifier effect, killing two birds with one stone as my dry skin takes on much-needed moisture!

I’m not sure if this dish qualifies as a true goulash but it shares enough ingredients with more traditional versions that I think it’s okay to use the name. It is not a soup. It’s not even really a stew, as it uses very little liquid. It’s just a braised meat dish that goes perfectly with my homemade spätzle, which is why I came up with it. I need no excuse to make these noodle-dumplings because they’re chewy little addictions; however, they do taste best paired something rich and slightly stew-y. If you’re a vegetarian, they’d go great with spicy lentils or vinegary, warm red cabbage.

The spätzle (also spelled spaetzle) comes down from my grandmother, the progeny of a Bavarian mother and an Alsatian father. Her recipe has no exact proportions and each time I’ve made it, somehow the amounts of flour and water are always slightly different. The best guidance is to get the mixture to the consistency of waffle batter—thick but still pourable—knowing you can always adjust by adding more water or flour if the first couple rounds don’t turn out the way you like. I also recommend making the batter about 20 minutes before cooking, as it thickens slightly with the wait.

Beef Goulash with Mushrooms

Ingredients:
1.5 lbs sirloin tip or other stewing beef, cubed
1 med. onion, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbs. sweet paprika
1 tsp. tomato paste
1/4 c. red wine
1. c. beef broth
1 lb. button or cremini mushrooms, thick sliced
olive oil
4-6 Tbs. sour cream

Directions:
1. In a Dutch oven or heavy bottomed pot, heat olive oil on med-high and brown beef in batches, setting aside after each batch.

2. Drain any excess fat, leaving 2 Tbs. Still on med-high, sauté onion and garlic for five minutes. When softened and onion is getting brown, add paprika and tomato paste and stir, 30 seconds.

3. Deglaze the pan with the red wine and cook down, 1 minute. Return the beef and stir to combine.

4. Add broth and mushrooms, salt and pepper to taste, stirring all to combine. Cover and cook on low 45-90 minutes, stirring occasionally.

5. Just before serving, turn off heat and stir in sour cream to taste. Serve immediately over hot spätzle.

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Spätzle

Ingredients: 
2 eggs
2 + cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1 1/4 – 1 1/2 cups water
1/4 tsp. nutmeg

Directions:
1. Put a large pot of water on the stove to boil. While it’s heating, make the batter and let it sit for a few minutes.

2. In a large bowl, mix dry ingredients together. Whisk in eggs.

3. Starting with 1 cup, whisk in water, adding more gradually until the mixture has the consistency of waffle batter.

4. When the water is boiling, hold the bowl in one hand, tilting it over the pot, and use a dull knife to “cut” the batter into the rolling water. (See photo.) Cut 3-4 noodles at a time. Allow them to rise to the surface and boil a further 2-4 minutes. (As the water gets low, the spätzle may stick and you may need to “help” them up by gently loosening them from the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon.)

5. Remove the noodles using a slotted spoon or spider. Place in a hot casserole dish and rub with butter to keep from sticking together. Keep the dish in the oven to stay warm while you cook the remaining spätzle.

"Cutting" the batter off the edge of the bowl.

“Cutting” the batter off the edge of the bowl.

Kapusta: Spicy Turkish Cabbage

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In my day job writing grants for a maritime non-profit, I sometimes get the chance to visit cargo ships calling on the Port of New York & New Jersey. Besides giving me first-hand experience of the services for which I’m raising money, these ship visits also provide a glimpse into the fascinating but rarely seen world of merchant mariners. Most of these men (and occasionally women) hail from the so-called global South, and when working on board vessels for six to nine months at a time, they maintain tenuous connections with their homelands.

I’ve noticed, however, that they tend to eat  as they would at home. This can be challenging when one cook and an assistant or two is serving meals to a 22 person crew representing India, the Philippines, Tanzania, Turkey, Indonesia, and Singapore. Usually the largest segment’s cuisine dominates, with separate meals for officers if they hail from Japan, the US, or Scandinavian countries (as they often do). Other times, the crew might all come from the same country, if not the same region; when that happens, the meals will feature the native cuisine almost exclusively.

If I’m ship-visiting around midday, as often happens, the crew will usually invite me to share their lunch. It’s an honor to receive such hospitality, and a privilege to share what is usually a delicious, well-prepared meal. The recipe below represents my efforts to recreate one such meal that I ate on board a ship with an all-Turkish crew — a dish I now know is called kapuska or kapusta. The version I had did not include meat, and was served with hot barley and thick plain yogurt as well as chili flakes on the side for those who wanted a spicier version. I remember exactly how it tasted — comforting yet simple, rich with flavor but light on the stomach. I regret not asking the cook for the recipe, but some googling has revealed different versions made with the identifiable ingredients of cabbage, tomato products, and pepper-based spices). I’ve tried and tasted and retried and continued testing various combinations of these ingredients over the years. Although this recipe surely isn’t exactly what I had on board that ship, it is delicious. And on a cold winter’s night, it’s comforting, nourishing, and extremely warming. (For those with delicate taste buds, go easy on the spices, especially the hot paprika!)

By the way, if you’re nervous about the cabbage giving off a nasty sulfur smell during cooking, don’t be. I couldn’t tell you why, but I’ve never experienced that phenomenon when making this dish. Maybe the rich spices and onions mask any malodorous emissions, or perhaps the acid content in the tomatoes balances them out. In any case, your kitchen will smell of delicious paprika and tomatoes while this dish is simmering away.

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Spicy Turkish Cabbage (Kapusta)

Ingredients:
1-2 lbs. stewing beef, cubed (optional)
2 large yellow onions, very thinly sliced
1 3-lb green or white cabbage, cored and thinly shredded (yields about 12-14 cups) Note that green cabbage is tougher than white, and will require a longer cooking time.
2-3 cups tomato purée
2-3 Tbs. tomato paste
1 Tbs. crushed red pepper
1 Tbs. or more sweet Hungarian paprika
1/4-1/2 tsp. hot Hungarian paprika
olive oil, salt, 1-2 cups water

Note: The spices in this dish can be adjusted to taste–there’s no need to make it as hot as I have it here. I will emphasize, however, that good quality spices are key. Many versions of kapusta use pepper paste which I haven’t been able to find. For this recipe, good sweet paprika (preferably Hungarian) is crucial. If you can’t find hot paprika,which is harder to track down, substitute cayenne pepper (you may need to increase the amount) or a high quality Indian chili powder made of pure chilies (not the melange of spices labeled “chili powder” in many American grocery stores).

Directions:
(If not using beef, skip step 1 and proceed to step 2, substituting olive oil for beef fat.)

1. In a large, heavy pot or braising pan with lid, heat olive oil over high and brown beef in batches, setting aside. Drain all but 2 Tbs. fat.

2. Sauté onions in beef fat, adding olive oil if necessary, until soft, about five minutes.

3. Add crushed red pepper and stir constantly, one minute. Add both types of paprika and stir constantly, 30 seconds.

4. Add tomato paste and stir to combine; then add 1 cup tomato purée and stir to combine, 30 seconds.

5. Add half the cabbage and another cup of tomato purée, stirring to combine. Add 1 cup water and return beef (if using). Cover the pot and lower heat to medium for ten minutes.

6. After 10 minutes, add the remaining cabbage and tomato purée and a bit of salt. (Your tomato products may already contain a fair amount of salt, so add sparingly and taste often.) Turn heat to low and simmer at least 45 minutes and up to two hours–the longer the better. Check every 20-30 minutes, stirring and adding more water when necessary.

The dish is ready when the cabbage and onions are soft and indistinguishable from each other. Serve with cooked barley, Ebly, orzo, or rice and Greek yogurt or sour cream, which helps dampen the heat from the spices while retaining the rich flavor.