By Bill Turner
Hungary is a small country — its population just 9.6 million — located due east of Austria. Just 31 years ago, the country was still under the control of the Soviet Union, with Russian troops stationed there beginning in 1945
after the end of World War II. The Hungarians were always rebellious and some of us can still remember seeing Soviet tanks rolling into Budapest in 1956 during the Hungarian Revolution as a nationwide uprising occurred against Soviet-imposed policies. When the Iron Curtain fell in 1989, the country, then extremely poor, blossomed. GDP per capita has increased over five-fold and Budapest is now one of the most popular tourist spots on the planet.
For a small country, Hungary has produced some real talent — composer and musician Frans Liszt, illusionist Harry Houdini and publisher Joseph Pulitzer, to name a few. And don’t forget Hungarian-born actress Zsa Zsa Gabor and actresses Goldie Hawn and Drew Barrymore, who each boast a rich Hungarian heritage.
On the culinary front, just remember one thing — paprika. The Hungarians use this spice in everything, and most notably in their national dish, Hungarian goulash. The red peppers to make paprika originally came from the New World through Spain. From the beginning, the Spanish always roasted the peppers over oak fires and we still find smoked paprika on grocery store shelves today.
The peppers were introduced to Hungary in the 1500s, where they found a perfect climate with a long, cool growing season. The Hungarians quickly discovered a way to preserve the peppers as paprika and to incorporate it into their stews. Hungary is now renowned as the best producer of red peppers and paprika.
Paprika takes center stage in Hungarian goulash. This is a soupy stew with meat, onions, tomato sauce and paprika as the prime ingredients. There are endless variations with carrots, peas and potatoes often added to the mix. It is a perfect winter dish that can be served with rice, pasta, egg noodles or just eaten as a soup.
The recipe on the following page is less complicated than many and closer to the original recipes of 500 years ago. It is also easy and quick to make.
HUNGARIAN GOULASH RECIPE
Time Required: 30-45 minutes prep and 2 hours simmering on stovetop.
- 1⁄2 cup olive oil
- 4 yellow onions, sliced as thin as possible (Use a mandolin if available.)
- 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1⁄4 cup of Hungarian sweet paprika
- 3 lbs. of stew meat, cut into 1⁄2″ squares (Talk to your butcher for a good cut of meat.)
- 2 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. black pepper
- 1⁄2 tsp. caraway seed
- 1 bay leaf
- 1, 14 oz. can peeled tomatoes
- 1 cup beef or chicken broth
- 8 oz. sour cream
- Put the olive oil, onions, garlic and paprika in a 5-qt. pot or sauté pan and cook over medium high heat, stirring to completely coat the onions and until the onions soften, about 4-5 minutes.
- Add the meat, salt and pepper and cook for another 4-5 minutes until the meat is browned.
- Add the caraway seed, bay leaf, tomatoes and broth, and bring to a boil.
While the goulash is cooking, prepare rice, egg noodles or a shaped pasta like penne or farfalle to serve with the goulash. Add a dollop of sour cream when serving.
When you get ready to enjoy this great dish, either alone or with friends, ask your local sommelier if they have any Tokaji wines from Hungary, which are generally available. The Tokaj region in northeastern Hungary is the country’s equivalent of California’s Napa Valley. Then, go to YouTube and search for Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2.” It’s the perfect background music for this classic Hungarian dinner. Enjoy!
HUNGARIAN RED PEPPERS
Hungarian paprika, which is recognized as the best and most flavorful, is made from a variety of red peppers, some mild and some hot. The peppers are roasted, the skin is removed, and they are oven dried and then crushed. Although there are 17 varieties available in Hungary, only two types are generally sold in the U.S., sweet and half-sharp (a euphemism for “really hot”). The sweet variety is really quite mild and can generally be found in good supermarkets. Both varieties can be found at Penzeys.com, that wonderful Wisconsin purveyor of spices.