One does not realize how sophisticated Hungarian food can be, and despite what you would think, it is not all about paprika or goulash.
Hungary was referred to as “the cultural heaven” and the “Paris of Europe,” and Budapest was once a lively place for the arts and food. It was full of coffee houses and restaurants. Unfortunately, most were destroyed during the two wars and from communism, but that culture is slowly being revived.
Hungarian cuisine is characterized as good because of the use of everyday ingredients that are prepared in a simple way producing rich and deep flavors for every dish. Chicken paprika (Paprikás csirke), is a 19th century prize-winning dish, because the famous French chef, Georges Auguste Escoffier (1846–1935), put Poulet au Paprika on the menu at splendid Grand Hotel in Monte Carlo.
Tradition Hungarian dishes were demonstrated by chef Attila Biscar during his recent visit to New York City at the International Culinary Institute. During his demonstration, the chef emphasized the importance of using fresh ingredients and, particularly, fresh/young paprika to enhance the flavors of the ingredients.
Chef Biscar also said that he was trying to change the dining culture of Hungary where people ate mostly two-meal courses instead of three. The meals were simple and easy to make, yet very tasty.
Hungarian Vegetable Stew (Lecsó)
1¾ ounces bacon or smoked lard diced into small cubes
21 ounces yellow bell peppers, sliced
10½ ounces tomatoes cut into cubes
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, grated
1 heaping tablespoon paprika powder
Dash of cumin, Salt, chili or hot paprika paste to taste
1 tablespoon oil
1 cup vegetable stock
Fry the bacon or lard cubes in the oil over medium heat. Add chopped onions and grated garlic and sauté until translucent, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in paprika, salt, cumin, and some chili. Return to heat and stir in pepper and some vegetable stock. Cover and braise until pepper is almost tender (about 10 minutes).
Add the tomatoes and cook until soft. Serve with bread. The taste varies according to the type of pepper used. Some swear by the bitingly hot bogyiszlói (banana chili). Others prefer the sweet, mild varieties. Most Hungarian delicacies lose nothing if vegetable oil or olive oil is used instead of lard.
Chicken Paprika With Spaetzle (Paprikás Csirke Galuskával)
4 chicken breasts
3½ ounces smoked lard or bacon, cut into small cubes
7 ounces onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, grated
1 yellow bell pepper, chopped
1 tomato, cut into small cubes
1 heaping tablespoon paprika powder
½ cup sour cream or crème fraiche
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
Chili or hot paprika to taste
2 cups chicken stock
Heat oil in large skillet and brown the chicken breasts. Remove chicken from pan and set aside.
In the same pan render the lard or bacon cubes for a few minutes until there is enough to sauté the chopped onions and the grated garlic. Sauté for a short time and add paprika, bell pepper, tomato, and chili or hot paprika paste, stir and add the chicken breasts. Add chicken stock to barely cover and cook on low heat until tender.
Remove chicken from pot and add the sour cream to the sauce. Blend together either with an immersion blender or blender. Put chicken back into the sauce and bring slowly to a boil.
1¾ cups of flour
Dash of salt, water if needed
Mix all ingredients well till it has the consistency of mashed potatoes (adding water if needed), then push through a spaetzle maker (or a colander with large holes) into lightly salted boiling water. Cook until spaetzle rise to the surface. Drain and serve with chicken.
Cottage Cheese Dumplings, With Sour Cream or Preserves (Túrógombóc tejföllel vagy lekvárral)
1 pound smooth cottage cheese
½ cup semolina
1 tablespoon sugar
2 eggs, 1 of which is separated and beaten
Zest of one lemon
Pinch of sal
1 cup breadcrumbs
3½ tablespoons butter
½ cup sour cream
Mix together the cottage cheese, salt, 1 egg white beaten, 1 whole egg, semolina, and sugar. Leave the mixture to rest for at least 20 minutes, but preferably half a day in the refrigerator.
Dust your hands with flour, and shape the mixture into 12 large dumplings. Bring water to boil in a large saucepan and add the dumplings. Simmer for at least 15 minutes.
While the dumplings are cooking, sauté the breadcrumbs in the butter until golden brown.
Using a slotted spoon, remove dumplings from the water and lightly roll in the breadcrumb mixture.
Serve immediately with powdered sugar, sour cream, or preserves.
Egészségedre és jó étvágyat! (Cheers and enjoy your meal!)