Bernhard and Elena’s Recipe for Holiday Gulasch and Spätzle

Elena with a bowl of gulasch

Elena with a bowl of gulasch

This post is part of our holiday baking and disability series. Today, regular contributing author and Easterseals dad Bernhard Walke shares with us his gulasch and Spätzle recipe that he makes with, and for, his daughter, Elena.

When I was in college, I had the good fortune to study for one year at the University of Vienna, which is where my grandfather studied many many years before. Over Christmas break, my parents and three siblings came to visit me there. They were tired and hungry when they arrived, so I took them to our regular “Beisl” (basically the Viennese equivalent of an Irish pub) for a warm meal and a drink.

Fortuitously, my youngest brother, Mark, had just turned 16. He could legally drink in Europe, so he ordered the two things he recognized on the menu: Bier und Gulasch. When his beer arrived, he took a big sip, let the foamy bubbles pop on his upper lip, and sat back and relished in his newly discovered independence.

His attitude changed when the Gulasch arrived. One look at his plate, and Mark’s face turned to disappointment and regret. We all asked if he was ok or if something was wrong. “No, nothing’s wrong. It’s fine,” he said. “I just can’t believe we just flew 4,000 miles, I ordered my first beer, but I still have to eat the same stuff that we eat at home!” We all howled in laughter. Mark continued eating Gulasch for the next week: it remained one of the few words he could pronounce…along with Bier.

Now, decades later, whenever my daughter Elena and I make this rich beef stew seasoned with paprika, caraway, and marjoram, I’m reminded of this story and how gulasch is in regular rotation at our own house. For Elena, stews are usually the best type of food for her for several reasons: the soft texture of stewed meat and vegetables is perfect for chewing, the texture is easily adjusted by adding water or stock to thin it out or by adding potatoes, rice, or any other starch, it can be thickened, and most importantly, the stew gets better as time goes by. We can reheat it for lunches or dinners throughout the week.

On any given Sunday, my wife and I will make some sort of stew with beef, pork, lamb, or lentils. Gulasch can be served with potatoes, rice, egg noodles, or my favorite: Spätzle. These are those small dumpling noodles that are widely mispronounced throughout the Upper Midwest as spatsel or spackle and eaten widely throughout southern Germany, Austria, and Hungary.

One of the best things about Gulasch is that there is no one singular recipe — we usually make it with what we have in our pantry . I’ve made it with pork, beef, wine, beer, tomatoes, potatoes, and a list of other ingredients. For today’s post, I’m using the version that Elena and I made last week because beef shanks were on sale and I had some extra time to make Spätzle. I actually was feeling lazy at the time and wanted to just do egg noodles, but we didn’t have any on hand. And after Thanksgiving, I don’t know if I could handle another potato. And so, here it is, my recipe

For Gulasch:

1.5 -2 lbs of good stew meat. I used beef shanks because they were on sale and I like that marrow that’s inside of the bone, but one could use chuck, short rib, or even oxtail. Yes, oxtail. It’s delicious!
2 carrots finely diced
2 stalks of celery finely diced.
1 large onion finely diced
4 cloves of garlic finely chopped or mashed.
1-2 red bell peppers finely chopped. I used one because it was large.
1 can of fire roasted tomatoes. They don’t have to be fire roasted; I just had them in my pantry.
¼ cup of Paprika
2-3 tablespoons of Caraway Seeds
2-3 tablespoons of Marjoram
Salt and pepper to taste
Sour Cream (optional)

  • In a large Dutch oven or heavy bottomed pot, heat a bit of oil on medium heat.
  • In the meantime, season the beef with pepper and salt before dredging in flour. The flour will help thicken the sauce.
  • Once the oil has warmed up, place the seasoned and floured beef into the pan and sear until it is a deep brown on each side. Once this is complete (after about 4 minutes on each side) remove the meat from the pot and put aside.
  • In the same pot, add the celery, carrot, onion, red pepper, and garlic and sauté until the vegetables are tender. Once they are tender, add the paprika to the vegetables and sauté for another minute or so.
  • At this point, you can deglaze the pot with either wine, beer, stock, or water (depending on what you have around) and scrape up all those little goodies that formed on the bottom of the pan.
  • Once this is done, add the tomatoes, caraway seeds, marjoram and beef back to the pot. Pour enough water or stock over the stew to just cover the meat. Bring to a boil, and cook over low heat for at least two hours.
  • Once the meat is fork tender season with salt and pepper to taste and serve with your preferred starch and a nice dollop of sour cream on top. If your brother is coming over, make sure that there is beer in the fridge, too.

For the Spätzle:

1 ½ cups of all purpose flour
½ teaspoon of baking powder
¾ teaspoon of salt
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg.
2 large eggs
½ of milk or water

  • Bring about six cups of water to a boil and while this is happening, mix the flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, I usually use a Pyrex measuring cup, combine the milk or water and the eggs and beat. Add the milk and egg mixture to the dry ingredients and mix together to form an elastic batter. If it’s too tough, just add more water.
  • Once the water has come to a boil, take small portions of the batter, usually about ½ a cup and push them through a colander or spätzle maker, which is what I use, so that they fall into the boiling water. Once they fall into the water (and hopefully, not on to your stove) give them a quick stir, and when they float to the surface, they are cooked. Carefully remove them with a slotted spoon and place them in a separate bowl. Once all the batter is used up, place a few pats of butter in the bowl, mix, adjust for salt, and snack on a few spoonfuls while setting the table.


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