Thursday, February 13, 2014

Recipes from Hungary

Hungarian food is rich, heavy and loaded with spices. This week I'm making a new version of an old favorite--Hungarian pork stew, also known as "goulash." I'm also going to try making Hungarian egg barley, a type of grated paste.

It’s amazing how infrequently I actually arrive at a nation where I’m already somewhat familiar with the food. That just goes to show you that for all of our Chinese, Mexican, Italian, Indian and Japanese restaurants we Americans really have a very limited idea about what they eat in other nations.

But alas, this week we’re going to make some food from a nation that already occupies a corner of my family cookbook, albeit a small one. In fact one of Martin’s favorite meals comes from this place, and there’s my dilemma. Is it cheating if I just cook, you know, that?

Anyway the nation is Hungary, and I’m going to refrain from making any “Hungry Hungary” jokes because that would be stupid.

Hungary is a central European nation, bordered by Slovakia, Romania, Ukraine, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia and Austria. That’s a lot of “ias.” It’s one of those countries that everyone wanted to occupy at some point or another, I guess because of the lovely climate, which really doesn’t sound all that lovely with its 107 degree summers and –31 degree winters.

Hungary has a few claims to fame: the Rubik’s cube, for one, which you remember if you were born in the olden-days like I was. A Hungarian also invented the ballpoint pen, the carburetor, the electric motor and the plasma television. Oh, and the atom bomb was also hypothesized in Hungary, and so was the hydrogen bomb.

Budapest, Hungary. Photo by Flickr user szeke.

Food is an important part of Hungarian culture, and is famous for being heavy on the paprika—which was also a Hungarian innovation. You’re probably already familiar with some of Hungary’s most famous dishes, namely Hungarian Goulash and chicken paprikash, both of which I’ve made and enjoyed. I also make cabbage noodles (usually to go with the Goulash), another Hungarian recipe.

So I thought maybe I could just do more authentic versions of these recipes, though I’m pretty sure the ones in my cookbook are already pretty close to being authentic. I ultimately decided to go with a completely different sort of goulash, though, and I didn’t do cabbage noodles either, opting instead for something I’d never tried. Really, it just seemed a little too much like cheating to try to duplicate something I’ve already done.

So here’s what I did end up picking:

Hungarian Pork Stew (Goulash)
(from The Hungarian Cook)
  • 1 1/4 lb pork, cubed
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tomato, sliced
  • 1/4 green pepper, chopped
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1 tbsp cooking oil
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 to 2 tbsp sweet Hungarian paprika

Fried Egg Barley
(from Eastern European Food at
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 large eggs
note: I used 2   ½ cups flour and 4  eggs

And on the side:

Cucumber Salad
  • 1 tsp mustard
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vinegar
  • 1 tbsp dried dill
  • 1 tbsp garlic
  • 1 tbsp oil
First let’s make the egg barley.

OK, so here's the thing about Hungarian egg barley ... It isn't actually barley. I know this because I nearly went to the store and bought pearl barley, thinking it would be a substitute. Egg barley is actually a kind of pasta, and it's super simple to make. Here's how:

Technically, you'll want to do this a few hours in advance so the barley will have a chance to dry, but I did it the same day and then dried it at a low temperature in my oven.

First combine the flour and salt, then add the eggs and mix until you get what my source called a "shaggy dough." If you've done it right, it should stick into a ball in your hand. If it doesn't do that, you might have to add another egg, or part of an egg. (I ended up adding two more, and I didn't use as much flour, either.)

When the dough looks about right divide it into fist-sized balls. Cover it loosely and let it sit for 15 minutes or so, then get out your cheese grater. Using the largest holes in the grater, grate the dough. Make sure you spread out the grated bits evenly so that they don't stick together, because they will. Now let dry for three or four hours.

To cook this stuff, heat up some cooking oil and fry, stirring constantly. Add salt and enough water to cover the bottom of the pan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 5 to 8 minutes. Lift the lid and stir, then turn off the heat. Replace the lid and let sit for about 30 minutes.

Next let’s do the pork:

Sauté the onion and garlic in the oil until the onion is translucent. Now add the meat and brown on all sides. Reduce heat and cover, and let the meat cook for 45 minutes, adding water if it gets too dry.

Add the tomatoes and peppers, then season with salt, pepper and cumin. Add the white wine. Cover and let stew for another 30 minutes.

Finally, add the paprika and stir to incorporate, then cover and let cook for another 10 minutes. Serve with boiled potatoes and the fried egg barley.

Finally, here’s how to make the salad: 

Peel and slice the cucumbers and transfer to a large bowl. Meanwhile, mix the rest of the ingredients together and pour over the cucumbers. Done!

Here's what we thought: Martin wanted to know why there wasn't any paprika in the goulash. Which either means that his tastebuds are going, or he hasn't had enough sweet Hungarian paprika to be able to recognize it as actual paprika (vs. the stuff you get at the grocery store). The stew was good, but neither of us really liked it as much as the goulash I usually make, which I confess I do usually serve with garden-variety paprika. That makes it less authentic, I'm sure, but it's what we're used to. The egg barley ... Well, it clumped together and wasn't really dry enough when I cooked it, so maybe that was the problem. It seemed more like a heavy dumpling than a pasta. It was fine, but I don't think I did it right. Maybe I added too much egg after all. I did like the cucumbers, though in small doses as it was a bit too much dill for my tastes.

This was pretty good but I do have to say the next time I make Hungarian food it will probably be my old standby goulash recipe with cabbage noodles. 

Next week: Iceland

For printable versions of this week's recipes:

1 comment:

  1. Hungary has a LOT claims to fame: Vitamin C, soda water, safety match, tungsten lamp,

    binoculars or opera glasses, electric motor and car, helicopter,
    design of Volkswagen beetle, Ford T-model, electric transformer and turbo generator.
    Digital computing is also from Hungarian inventor (Neumann), colour and plasma television.
    Another Hungarian Károly Simonyi started and headed the Microsoft applications group that was responsible for the hugely popular programs Word and Excel.

    And more.

    And the heavy paprika-blabla is only slogen.
    Heavy generalization, times changes.


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