Hungarians love good food. Food, love, and music are deeply entwined in the Hungarian soul. In Hungarian culture food is used as a buffer to melt away one’s troubles. When you visit a Hungarian one of the first they ask is, “Do you want something to eat? I have………” and they list 16 kinds of food they have on hand. And it is never enough either! They should have planned and had more available.
The mainstays of Hungarian cooking are pork, (seldom beef), lard, goose fat, vegetables (especially cabbage), sour cream, and paprika. And of course the best pastries human kind has ever known. Hungarians love stuffed vegetables too. They have never known a vegetable they could not stuff.
And Hungarian food is wonderful from authentic Chicken Paprikas to the Cabbage Rolls, to the pastries. Everything is so delicious it is a wonder we are not all over weight!
One of the reasons Hungarians love food so much us that the country is situated on a very fertile plain in Eastern Europe and is blessed with,
…..a mellow climate and a rich land yield orchards and vineyards, grain fields and pastureland – a plentiful reservoir of abundance that probably more than anything else has made the Hungarian a lavish and appreciative cook. It would be difficult to find a farm without pigs, an abundant supply of fruits, vegetables, and grains, and cool pantries without fresh cream, sour cream, and butter. Source: Hungarian Food and Culture
Many cultures have influenced Hungarian food, including the Roman and the French cultures. There are also Slovakian, Serbian, Croatian, Romanian, Russian, Polish, and German influences too. And probably the one spice Hungary is most noted for was introduced by the Turks.
Even peasant farms had their share of good food. A Hungarian peasant farm was where my maternal grandparents came from. I remember my grandmother making fresh, home made donuts in her kitchen while her three grandchildren sat around the kitchen table with taste buds salivating waiting for the hot donuts to come to out of the deep fat and to the table to be sprinkled with powdered sugar. I can still smell and taste those donuts. We called the twisted donuts ‘birdies.’ Why I don’t remember. We just did. “Grandma, make birdies,” we would cry. And she would.
I remember once one of my two brothers or I had a brand new bow and arrow set. We were all trying to hit a bulls-eye and failing miserably. My grandfather kept getting in the way trying to get the bow and arrows from us. He finally wrestled them from us. He said, “I’ll show you how its done.” And he did. He hit three bulls-eyes straight in a row. Lickety-split! Just like that. One. Two. Three. I was in awe!
My grandfather may not have had formal education, but he was very smart and had a good eye.
Another story involves chickens. You know how at Easter time stores sell baby chicks? Well, my parents got my brothers and I each one when I was in third or fourth grade. Of course baby chicks don’t stay babies forever. I came home from school one day and the chicks were no where to be seen.
Long story short, my grandmother had rung their teeny-tiny little necks and had made a dinner out of them with rice and spices.
She killed my chicken.
That is what chickens were for in the ‘old country,’ as my grandparents called it. You raised them for food for the family.
BUT I DIDN’T CARE!!! I refused to eat dinner that night. No child should have to eat their own pet. And I didn’t care if I went to bed hungry that night. I was NOT going to eat my pet baby chick. I was stubborn even way back then!!!
I have long held that incident is why I am the way I am!!! It does explain a lot though!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I have other stories, but I will save them for another post.
Until then I will share another of my mother’s Hungarian recipes.
Featured Recipe Hungarian Cucumber Salad
This is how my mother made cucumber salad. Many of the recipes I see on-line and in Hungarian cook books use sugar. When I asked my mother to give me her recipe she did not include sugar in the ‘recipe.’ I say, ‘recipe,’ but there was nothing written down. She made it in front of me telling me what the ingredients were and what she did as I wrote it all down.
Anyway, she did not use sugar that day so I do not add any. If you want a sweeter salad, add a bit of sugar to the dressing.
Hungarian Cucumber Salad is a wonderful accompaniment to the Chili I featured in my last post. The cool cukes in cold sour cream are just right with hot (from heat or spice) in the chili.
NOTICE: Since this is my mother’s recipe the ingredient amounts are a bit loooseey-gooseey. Just go with the flow. It will come out delicious. Trust me.
Here is what you will need:
1-2 garlic cloves
½ to 1 whole medium onion
Enough sour cream to cover
A couple of capfuls of vinegar
Parsley for garnish
Here is what you do:
Wash the cucumbers really well. Many stores use wax or something on them to make them look shiny. Wash that off. I some times use dish washing soap to get it all off.
If you like you can peel all of the skin off. I don’t. I peel the skin off in strips leaving just a bit of the green still on the cucumber.
Then take a fork and run the tines from top to bottom of the cucumbers to make some grooves in the cucumber. This will do two things. One, the grooves will help the dressing to stick to the cucumbers, and two, it will add a bit of visual interest.
Now slice the cucmbers as thin as you can.
Now you can see the difference.
Ordinary, boring cucumbers slices.
Fun, interesting cucumber slices.
Layer the cucumbers in a towel set in a colander. Add a lot of salt at each layer and when all the slices have been used, use your fingers to gently mix the salt into the cucumbers.
Cover with the towel and let them sit for 60 minutes or so. Periodically gently squeeze the water out. The key word here is gently. If you treat the cuke slices too roughly they will not keep their round, fun, and interesting shape.
Cucumbers are 95% water and this procedure sweats out and gets a lot of the water out.
While you are waiting for the cucumbers to sweat, cut the onion in half and then make half-moon slices. Since I only used 1 cucumber, I only used half an onion. If you use two cucumber you would use the while onion.
Also while the cukes are sweating peel and slice the garlic cloves in half.
Rub the garlic on the bottom and the sides of the bowl. Many recipes call for diced garlic. My mother did not do it this way. She said she only wanted a hint of garlic in the background, and rubbing the bowl with the garlic achieved that.
If in the process of rubbing the bowl pieces of the garlic fall off and cling to the bottom and sides of the bowl that is just perfect. Perfect I tell you.
Add the sliced onions to the bowl and stir around a bit to pick up some garlic flavor.
When the 60 minutes is up, gently squeeze any extra water from the cucumbers and spread them out on a layer or two of paper towels and pat them dry.
Now place a few of the cucumbers in the bowl that has been rubbed with lots of garlic and hold the onions too. We are doing some serious layering of flavors here.
This is also the time to add the sour cream and the vinegar. Add one tablespoon and one capful of vinegar to each layer. Gently mix with your fingers.
If you do not like to play with your food, gently fold the cream and vinegar into the cucumbers with a spatula.
Keep adding the cucumbers to the bowl a little at a time and adding sour cream and vinegar until all the cucumbers are used up.
For good measure add one more heaping big tablespoon of sour cream and a capful or two of the vinegar and mix one last time.
Add a bit of parsley as garnish if you are using it and sprinkle a little paprika over all.
Now comes the best part.
Eating your cucumber salad. A little music, a lot of love, and you can almost hear the friendly and lively violins of Hungary playing in the background.
Wait! What is that I hear in the background? Close your eyes and maybe you can hear it too………..
You are listening to and watching: Muzsikas, live at the National Concerthall in the Palace of Arts.
Muzsikás with their friends – dance and choreography by Zoltán Farkas.
Budapest. July 13. 2006.
Video: Palace of Arts. MUZSIKÁS is the most popular and most renowned ensemble in Hungary and worldwide playing traditional Hungarian folk music. They have played Carnegie Hall. Their performance is an exciting musical experience, the audience are transferred back to the remote Hungarian village atmosphere where the traditions survived the centuries.
2 cucumbers $1.10
2 garlic cloves $0.10
1 whole medium onion $0.89
Enough sour cream to cover $1.26
A couple of capfuls of vinegar $0.05
Parsley for garnish $0.04
Total Cost = $3.74
NOTE: These ingredients and this cost would yield twice the amount of salad I made and is pictured above
Quote of the Day: It’s not enough to have talent, you also have to be Hungarian. Robert Capa