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I'm not Hungarian--though some of my relatives came from there but they were ethnic Slavs, not Magyars--but I love Hungary and Hungarian food. Having lived for several years in Central Europe, I learned to make a lot of Hungarian dishes which I continue to cook to this day.

So tonight, I'd like to share several of my favorite Hungarian dishes in the hopes that you will fall in love with this wonderful cuisine as deeply as I have and add something different to your kitchen repertoire.

Mostly, I cook without measuring ingredients unless I'm baking, so in order to give some measurements I have used the proportions for these dishes as they appear Susan Derecskey's The Hungarian Cookbook (Harper and Row, 1972) though aspects of the recipes do not always match those in the book as much of this I have developed and tweaked over time and made my own.

Follow me below the orange Galuska and let's get cooking!

A Note on Ingredients

The most important ingredient in most of these recipes is paprika. Americans like to use it as a sort of garnish, to add color to food, but in Hungarian cooking, it's used as the main spice in a dish. For that reason, make sure you use high-quality paprika. Imported Hungarian paprika is available in nearly all supermarkets these days, or you can go to a spice market and buy it in bulk. There are two kinds of paprika, one "sweet" and the other "hot". These recipes call for "sweet" paprika, although I often mix in a little of the "hot" together with it to give the dish a little kick. Use your own judgment, but do use the highest quality paprika you can find and be sure it is fresh: if it's turned brown in your pantry, throw it out and go buy some fresh. It's imperative, and before you set out to cook, take stock of your paprika. This cannot be emphasized enough.

I use strong, small yellow onions when I'm cooking Hungarian, the kind that make you weep. When you're going to saute onions for Hungarian cooking, you want to do it over a medium heat and cook them until they are just translucent but never brown them. It's very important to the integrity of the dish that onions should be cooked just this way.

You can use any fat you like, but to be authentic, you should use lard. I know that sounds gross to most people, but there is something about the flavor of lard that really adds to Hungarian cooking. Try it, you won't regret the result.

Now, let's get cooking.


Susan Derecskey in her fine volume on Hungarian cuisine has this to say about Galuska, a kind of dumpling: "If you can't cook Galuska, you can't cook Hungarian", and she's absolutely correct. The same recipe can also be used for a "pinched" dumpling called Csipetke, which is traditionally used in Gulyas Leves, or Goulash Soup. Here's the master recipe:

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
3 eggs
2 tablespoons oil

Mix the dry ingredients, then add the eggs and beat well with a spoon. You may need to add up to 1/2 cup of cold water to make it come together. Beat until the dough begins to blister, and then allow to rest in the refrigerator for about an hour. Turn the dough out on a floured board, and cut off 1/2 inch pieces (or put it through a Spaetzle machine) and boil the pieces in salted water. They are done soon after they re-float to the surface, and can be removed with a slotted spoon. Butter them before serving, but NEVER put them directly in a soup or stew while it's cooking as they will lose their firmness. Serve them in a separate bowl at the table and allow your guests to help themselves so they go into the serving bowl hot and firm.

If you have Galuska left over, they make a wonderful and simple dessert which the Germans call Mohnnudeln: Add a little more butter, and ground poppy seeds and sugar or honey to taste. Serve warm. You can also make less by allowing one egg per cup of flour.

We'll be serving the other main dishes with the Galuska or Csipetke, so keep the recipe at hand.

Gulyas Leves (Goulash Soup)

Let's start with a soup. Hungarians love to start with soup, and this is a staple:

3 tblsp lard or oil
1 medium strong onion, chopped fine
1/2 lb stew beef
1 tablespoon paprika (I use much more, so I'd say to taste)
pinch of caraway seeds (caraway seeds and paprika ALWAYS go together), slightly crushed
4 cups beef stock (use a good one, not in a can--get one of the ones in a carton or make it yourself)
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1/2 medium green pepper, cut in strips
2 or 3 canned tomatoes (must be canned)
1/2 lb potatoes
If you like you can make the homemade pinched noodle called Csipetke but you don't have to have them.

Saute the onion in the fat over medium heat until it is translucent, but not browned in a heavy pot, then add the meat and brown it lightly. Sprinkle with 1 tsp salt, the paprika and caraway seeds, add two cups of the stock and blend all together with a wooden spoon. Add garlic, green pepper, tomatoes, and bring to a simmer. Cover, simmer 1 hour, adding more stock as needed to keep the meat covered.

Meanwhile, peel and dice the potatoes in 1/2 inch pieces, and add to soup with another tsp salt. Simmer until potatoes are done, about 25 minutes. Let the soup stand for a few minutes and skim off any fat. If you want to add Csipetke or spaetzle, add it now, bring the soup back to a simmer and serve hot.

Now, if you want a stew, try this, because it's what most Americans think of as Gulyas (except for the American dish which up here goes by the name of "American Chop Suey" and has nothing to do with anything Hungarian.) Meet poerkoerlt:

Marhapoerkoerlt (Beef Paprika Stew)

1 cup chopped onions
3 tblsp lard or oil
2 pounds stew beef, cut in 1 inch cubes
Beef stock (use a good one or make it yourself!)
1.5 tsp salt
1 tblsp paprika (or more, to taste)
1/4 tsp lightly crushed caraway seeds
1/4 tsp marjoram
1 medium green pepper, cut in strips
3 small canned tomatoes

In a 3 quart casserole, saute onions until translucent. Remove them with a slotted spoon and set them aside. Make sure meat is dry, and brown it in the fat, a little at a time. Set aside. When all the meat is browned, pour 1/2 cup stock into the pot and deglaze. Stir in salt, paprika, caraway, and marjoram. Cover and simmer 2 minutes. Add beef and onions. Add enough warm stock to just cover the meat. Simmer 1 hour, stirring from time to time. Add more stock if you need to to keep the meat covered. Add green pepper and tomatoes, cover, and simmer for another hour. When the meat is tender, remove from heat and let it rest a while. Skim off any fat. Correct seasoning, and re-heat.

If you're serving Galuska with this--as you should be-- serve them separately, do NOT put them in the soup. You may garnish the soup with a dollop of sour cream.

Now, the mysterious, and sublime...

Csirke Paprikas (Chicken Paprikash)

Chicken parts, or cut up two chickens, about 4 pounds
1/4 cup of lard or chicken fat
Good store-bought or home-made chicken stock (not out of a can)
1 strong yellow onion, chopped
1 to two tablespoons paprika
1 green pepper, seeded, cut into 1/2 inch strips
3 canned tomatoes
1/2 cup (or a little more, that's my taste) sour cream, at room temperature.

Dry the chicken pieces and season with salt and pepper, and meanwhile, saute the onion in fat until translucent. Add the chicken, a little at a time, and saute until just yellow (NOT brown). Remove chicken and onions. Deglaze pan with chicken stock. Add some salt and the paprika. Put the chicken and onions in a casserole and cover with the pan juices. Lay the tomatoes and the peppers on top, and simmer 15 minutes on the top of the stove. Stir it up, recover, and simmer another 15 to twenty minutes. When you take it off the heat, skim of as much fat as you can, and put a little of the sauce in a bowl, which you will use to temper the sour cream. Then add the sour cream to the pot and stir. Serve with Galuska and...

Hungarian Cucumber Salad

This salad can be served with all of these dishes. In fact, it should be. Hungarians like their salad vegetables marinated to within an inch of their lives, including lettuce. I like mine a little crispier, but the longer you let it sit, the soggier it gets, and the more authentic.

Depending upon how much you want to make, take:

4 pickling cukes, well-washed. You may score them with a fork if you like. Slice them as thinly as possible.
2 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped fine
1/2 onion, sliced thin
3/4 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup cold water
1/4 cup sugar
Salt, pepper, and chopped dill

Mix all together in a large bowl. Marinate at least 2 hours for a crispier salad, overnight for a real authentic Hungarian one.

Hungarians love dessert. They have such a wonderful array of cakes, souffles and strudels. Everyone thinks the Strudel is Austrian or Bavarian, but really, it's originally Hungarian. The dough for Strudel--or as the Hungarians call it, Retes--is a true pain in the neck to make. It can be approximated, very closely, by using frozen Fillo dough which is how I make my Retes.

Meggy Toeltelek
(Sour Cherry Strudel)

2 cups sour cherries (you can use canned, in fact, it's best)
3/4 cups sugar
1/4 cups ground walnuts
Bread crumbs

Drain the cherries well. Toss with walnuts and sugar, and set aside. Meanwhile,
Take a defrosted package of frozen Fillo dough. Place in a baking sheet, one leaf at a time, and brush with butter. Repeat this until you've used up all of the Fillo, sprinkling some bread crumbs every fourth or fifth sheet or so.  Place the filling at one end, leaving some space (about two inches) from the end. Roll this up (carefully!) while pushing the sides in so it's sealed. Brush with melted butter. Bake at 400 degrees until golden brown, basting once with butter. It should be flaky and finished in about half an hour in a hot oven.

So there you have it, from soup to nuts, some great culinary ideas from the Magyarország. These dishes are particularly suited for Winter, and I hope you try them and get as much enjoyment out of them as I do.

So, what's for dinner at your house? Let's talk food in the comments, and thank you for reading.

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