When my good friend Leeanna heard that Therese and I were going to Budapest, Hungary for our honeymoon, she bought us a copy of Culinaria Hungary by Anikó Gergeley as a wedding present. I glanced at the book before we left for our vacation. It is full of wonderful photographs and enticing recipes and descriptions of classic Hungarian food like Lángos and stuffed cabbage rolls. When we returned from our trip, I was eager to recreate the wonderful food we ate in Hungary, and reached for this book as a source for what I was sure would be absolutely authentic Hungarian food.
Now finally, I have returned to this book to try making some of the food that so entranced us when we were in Budapest. Therese made spaetzle, and I made pork pörkölt (more on what that is in a minute). What we found in making these two dishes, and I confirmed in leafing through the book and reading other recipes, is that the recipes are rather loose. Important details like how long a dish is supposed to cook and how much water you should add to make a dough are left out or are blatantly incorrect.
So while this is a beautiful book and a great source for Hungarian cuisine, I would say as a practical cookbook it is lacking. It is a great starting point for discovering dishes; however, in order to make what you find in the book, you have to refer to other sources to fill in the information missing in this book. If you are willing to do a little extra research to fill in these gaps, there is a lot to be gained from consulting this treasure trove of all things culinary and Hungarian.
There are actually 3 Hungarian stews made from onions, meat and paprika: gulyás, pörkölt and paprikás. Let’s forget about paprikás and just talk about the other two. Gulyás is more of a soup made with potatoes added to thicken the broth a bit, while pörkölt is what we usually call “goulash,” a stew made with tomatoes and peppers served over egg noodles or dumplings (what we think of as spaetzle but in Hungarian they call nokedli) with sour cream on the side. Gergeley’s book has an intriguing recipe for Pork Pörkölt, so I decided to make that. Below are the recipe from the book, and my photos and comments (in bold).
1-3/4 pound pork (leg or shoulder) [I found a really nice tenderloin at Trader Joe's so that's what I used - it was more like 1-1/4 pounds, so I adjusted cooking times appropriately]
1 large onion
2-3 bell peppers
1 large tomato
4 tbsp oil
1/2 tsp paprika [Therese and I both agreed this was way too little paprika - other recipes I saw said to add at least a whole teaspoon, so that's what I did]
1 bell pepper for garnishing [I am not big on garnishing, especially in this case with raw pepper chunks - I fear it would take away from the flavor of the dish]
Cut the meat into 3/4 inch cubs. Finely chop the onion. Seed and chop the bell peppers. Cut the tomato into 8 pieces.
Sauté the onion in the oil, and remove from the heat.
To fill in the gaps in this recipe, I consulted this Porkolt recipe from the Orange County Hungarian website. This recipe states
[cooking the onions properly is] the secret to achieving the perfect sauce, which is the jewel of this dish.
So I followed their advice, sauteing the onions slowly, and adding about 1/4 cup of water every so often to keep the onions from browning, over the course of about 20 minutes.
Add the peppers and the meat. Return to the heat and cook for a few minutes, stirring continuously.
I added the meat by itself, and browned it with the onions, stirring continuously as the recipe suggests.
Season with salt, then add the paprika and pieces of tomato. Cover, and leave to cook in its own juices.
Okay, some crucial pieces of information missing here. First of all, along with the bell peppers, tomatoes and paprika, you have to add water. I added about 1/2 cup (keeping in mind that the tomatoes release a good deal of liquid while cooking – if you cook this dish without tomatoes, you’ll have to add about twice that amount of water).
Secondly, how long should the dish cook before it’s ready???? The other recipe I consulted said 1 hour for a dish with 2 pounds of meat, so I figured on 30 to 40 minutes for my dish with 1-1/4 pounds of tenderloin, and that worked out fine!
Replace any of the juices that evaporate with a little warm water if necessary. [this was not necessary in my case]
Garnish the cooked dish with the sliced bell pepper. [again, I did not garnish]
Serve with dumplings or pasta pellets, a fresh salad, or preserved vegetables.
As I mentioned, Therese made dumplings (spaetzle). I am not including a recipe for them here simply because the recipe in this book for the dumplings was wholly inadequate. I am sure that a cursory Google search will turn up many good recipes for these little noodles of joy.
I then added a couple dollops of Tofutti Sour Supreme and a sprinkle of smoked (hot) paprika to finish off my dish. I was very satisfied with the results – leftovers are going to be dinner for tonight!