“What is that food? Point it out on this German menu that I can’t read.”
The setting: Munich, Germany; Oktoberfest; the Schützen-Festzelt tent. Noonish.
The cast of characters: a group of extremely good looking German twenty-somethings, all in traditional Bavarian dress; my expat sister-in-law, husband, and myself, also decked out in dirndls and lederhosen; about 4,000 other people.
It was love at first sight. There I was, braids in my hair, dirndl on my body, one-liter stein of beer in my hand, surrounded by 4,000 other celebrants of Oktoberfest in our tent. German waitresses bustled by our table, carrying upwards of 10 steins at a time. The band in the middle of the tent alternated between traditional German drinking songs and English-language favorites like the Time Warp and, inexplicably, Country Road by John Denver. Conversation flowed from our little American contingent to the handsome German graduate students to our left and the beautiful blonde Bavarian ladies to our right. Flushed with the glow of gemütlichkeit and beer, I surveyed my surroundings. And that’s when I saw it….
It was glorious. Served in a little cast-iron pan, it looked like a cheesy, noodley, green-onion topped piece of heaven. My sister-in-law had been raving about the roast chicken in the beer tents, and though I was sure the chicken was magnificent, I was now a woman on a mission. I needed that cheesy stuff, whatever it was. I quickly prevailed upon one of my newfound German friends to point out the mystery dish on the German menu, and then I asked the waitress in butchered German, “Allgäuer käse-krautspätzle, bitte!” Alpine cheese spaetzle with sauerkraut, please!
It was delicious. Honestly? One of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten, and I have eaten a lot of things. Should I pin the exquisiteness of this meal on the thrill of being in a new place, or the amount of beer I had already consumed at one in the afternoon? Maybe, but I don’t think so. The dish consisted of spaetzle (little noodle/dumpling hybrids) mixed with cheese and sauerkraut. This was then browned and topped with fried onions and green onions. When I originally ordered, I had no idea that the cheesy noodles also contained sauerkraut, but for me this was a pleasant surprise. The richness of the cheese worked so well with the tang of the sauerkraut that I was shocked I’d never had a combo like it anywhere else. I ate every last bite of that käsespätzle and was sad when it was gone.
“I bet I could make that at home!”
The setting: Boston, MA; my desk at work; my kitchen at home; NOT a German beer tent.
The cast of characters: Me, my appetite, the internet.
Coming back from Germany was basically the saddest. Not only was it the end of my beautiful European vacation, but I also had afforded myself no buffer day between our flight back to Boston and returning to work. So there I sat, 9 am on Monday morning at my desk, severely jet-lagged and dreaming of Germany. What’s a girl to do in such a situation? Furtively research recipes for käsespätzle at work, of course! At first I struggled because I could only find recipes for spaetzle with cheese and spaetzle with sauerkraut. Also, I kept finding recipes in German, what with spaetzle being German and all. Eventually, I found the blog of an American lady with a German husband who had posted a recipe for käsespätzle with sauerkraut. Success! In the end, my recipe is based mainly on The Diary of Sugar and Spice’s version of käsespätzle with sauerkraut**, though I also used Smitten Kitchen’s post on spaetzle and an All Recipes postto guide my attempt.
A note before I dive into the recipe: there are many thoughts on proper spaetzle dough and the best way to cook it. Some recipes have a higher egg-to-flour ratio than others, some use milk, some use water, and some use only eggs and flour! I can’t tell you which is best because I’ve only made the one below, which turned out great. Also, some people make their spaetzle by cutting ribbons of dough on a cutting board, while others push the dough through a colander or a slotted spoon. Me? I just bought a dang spaetzle maker for $8 because Deb from Smitten Kitchen told me it was worth the money and I trust her with all cooking-related decisions.
- 4.5 cups all-purpose flour
- 5 large eggs
- 1 tablespoon salt, plus more for boiling water
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- 1.75 – 2.25 cups water (original recipe calls for 1.75-2 cups water, but I found my dough a little dry at 2 cups)
- 1 tablespoon canola/olive oil for boiling water
- 14.5 oz sauerkraut, reserve juices
- 3 onions
- 1.5 tablespoons butter
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2-3 cups of grated cheese, ¾ cup reserved for topping (Gruyere, Emmentaler, Swiss, whatever your heart desires! I used 9 oz of cheddar/gruyere mix I found at Trader Joe’s)
- Green onions
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- Measure out 4.5 cups of all-purpose flour into a large bowl. Create a well in the middle of the flour for the remaining dough ingredients.
- Add eggs, salt, nutmeg and water to the well in the flour and mix. You may need more or less water depending on your flour. I used 2.25 cups, and could have probably even used 2.5. The dough should be fairly wet.
- Let dough sit 30 minutes as you prep remaining ingredients.
- Bring large pot of salted water to a boil with a tablespoon of oil.
- As the water is heating up, thinly slice 3 large onions and caramelize in a pan with a mix of olive oil and butter. I started out with 1 tablespoon of each, but added another half tablespoon of butter later to keep the onions from sticking to the pan.
- Once your onions are caramelized, set aside about ⅓ of the onions to use as a topping. Add drained sauerkraut (juices reserved) to the pan with the remaining onions to heat through.
- Once your pot of water is boiling, use your instrument of choice to get the dumpling dough into the water. If using a colander or slotted spoon, press dough through holes with a spatula in batches. If using a spaetzle-maker, place batches of dough into the “basket” and “grate” the dough into the water. When the spaetzle float, remove them with a slotted spoon to drain. Continue until all your spaetzle dough has become spaetzle!
- Now we are left with: spaetzle, caramelized onion/sauerkraut mixture, and grated cheese. The next step could be done a few different ways. Most of the recipes I saw called for people to layer their spaetzle, onion/sauerkraut mix, and cheese like a lasagna. This is not what I remembered my Dream Spaetzle looking like, so I mixed everything together and dumped it in a buttered 9 x 13 casserole dish.
- Use reserved sauerkraut juice to moisten the casserole to your taste, depending on how much you like sauerkraut.
- Top the spaetzle with about ¾ cup of the grated cheese and the caramelized onions set aside for topping.
- Bake in oven until cheese/onion topping begins to brown. Serve with chopped green onions on top.
This recipe makes about 8 entree-sized servings, or 12 side-dish servings. We ate the spaetzle as an entree with a roasted brussel sprout and arugula salad to balance out the richness of all that cheesy goodness!