There’s a new kid on the block in my neck of the woods. She’s beautiful, exotic, and has these flashy hazel eyes that dance a bit mischievously from her frame of red hair. I met her not long ago and knew instantly that we’d be friends. She’s Hungarian, like my grandfather, loves to cook, like me, and was a live-in chef for a Hungarian Jewish family in London, so she knows scads of recipes that are close to my heart and heritage.
One of my greatest joys in living overseas is the opportunity of international friendships, the cultures, and, of course, the food. Rita is a treasure.
Today was our first foodie gathering and sharing of recipes and kitchen space. We brought breakfast food (she particularly loves eggy breakfast casseroles – something that she didn’t grow up with) and she provided the lunch. I’m sharing our lunch recipes that I wrote down as she cooked. She doesn’t measure, so I had to stop her and measure or guesstimate well. I have cooked this since, but didn’t have the paprika paste and oh, that does make a difference. Still good without it, but the paste would be well worth the effort to find. (More photos following the recipes)
Rita’s Hungarian Beef Stew with Dumplings
~ 4-5 pounds chuck roast trimmed and cut into bite sized pieces
~ 2 onions coarsely chopped
~ 1 red bell pepper coarsely chopped
~ 2 tomatoes quartered
~ 1/3 bottle of Merlot
~ 1 cup beef broth
~ 1/3+ cup Hungarian paprika
~ 1 whole dried Hungarian paprika
~ 2 T. Hungarian paprika paste
~ vegetable oil
~ salt and pepper to taste
In a hot dutch oven or heavy cast iron pot put in a little oil, then add onions and cook until they are wilted. Add 4T (or more, to taste) ground Hungarian paprika and keep stirring to prevent the paprika from burning. Cook for 3-4 more minutes. Add the beef back to the pot with some more paprika and stir. Add 1/2t. of black pepper. Cook for 5 minutes over medium heat until the beef is slightly browned on all sides. Add the chopped red bell peppers and beef broth. The mixture should not be too soupy. Add the Merlot – more or less to taste. Cook very slowly over low heat – 60-90 minutes until the beef is tender. Add 2-3T. paprika paste and the seeds from one dried Hungarian paprika. Stir and let rest, then serve with spatzle or dumplings. This dish is particularly good with a vinegar salad of some sort or pickled vegetables.
Rita’s Hungarian Dumplings
Mix 2-3 cups all-purpose flour with 2 eggs, salt, and 2T vegetable oil. Add water slowly (around 2 cups) until the mixture is softer than pizza dough and though stretchy, will fall off of the spoon when scooped up.
Now you need a special tool from Hungary although a cheese grater (big holes) works ok. Put a spoonful of dough on top of the horizontally held cheese grater or tool and while holding this over a pot of salted boiling water, used a spoon to push the dough back and forth across the holes so that bits of it fall into the water and cook. Continue until all the dough is used. Cook for 5-10 minutes. Drain and rinse well. Add a little olive oil and toss. Serve with Rita’s Hungarian Beef Stew.
Serve with red wine and a hearty appetite.
Finish the meal with a couple ounces of slowly sipped (or quickly shot if your palate dictates) herb liquor like the one pictured below, a Jagermeister, or krauterliquor.
Unicum is popular liquor in Hungary made by the Zwack family with a very old recipe. It’s best served chilled.
It smells like a powerful cough drop. herby and potent. When asked if this should be sipped or shot, Rita, who is quite accustomed to this drink, suggested that we sip it, then brought it to her lips and savored each drop. She was the only Hungarian at the table. The rest of us each took a polite sip then looked at each other while eyes went buggy and quietly choked on the intensity of it. Whoa – a lot stronger than I’d expected. I pondered it for a moment or two, then threw it back in one gulp – so much better. And, quite good when taken in quickly.
The dessert that Rita brought out is something that I can’t quite describe. Cold, and moist. Layers of shredded pastry, small curd cottage cheese, and cocoa powder. The consistency of a firm tiramisu with a flavor I can’t pinpoint. All I can tell you is that it was delicious. It is delicious. I still need to get this recipe.
Four of us sitting around the table in a small neighborhood of Geilenkirchen. Nothing could be more luxurious a feeling. Amazingly rich food with complex flavors that are elegant and earthy, warm filling comfort food that is exotically Old world all at the same time. The food, the wine, the friends. Rita herself is a gem. Her voice at the table soft – not cutting into the air, but flowing with it. The lilt of her English is enchanting and poetic. I could listen to her for hours. She told us about working for a Jewish couple when she lived in London keeping a Kosher kitchen and of living in Hungary at a time with communism ruled and the image of the worker with a hammer were unavoidable in print and portrayed in large statues in the cities. And now it’s gone – without a trace. We saw pictures of the lake near her home and the chapel where she was married – the lake a popular vacation destination for Germans after the war where family members from the East and the West could meet together in one place.
Today is a memory seared in food and the company of amazing friends. A Hungarian, myself, and a country girl from Hooker, Oklahoma.