North Coast Journal


Paprika, more than a garnish

by Betty Thompson

Marika was a pretty, dark-haired Hungarian, barely 5-feet tall, who could down straight shots of fiery plum brandy in one gulp, noting with contagious laughter that her husband could not do the same. We lived in the same apartment building and our sons were playmates, although one spoke no English and the other no Hungarian. It was Marika who taught me to make cold cherry soup, Paprikas krumpli (potatoes), Pörkölt, a paprika-flavored stew, and goulash, the Hungarian national dish.

The single most-important foreign influence on Hungarian food is paprika from the Americas. We use it chiefly as a garnish for creamed foods, eggs and salads, but Hungarians measure it by the teaspoon or tablespoon. It is an indispensable ingredient that gives dishes a deep reddish-brown color, a piquant flavor, and produces an enticing aroma characteristic of good Hungarian cooking.

The Magyar word paprika is a variation on a Slavic term for pepper: peperke, piperke, paparka. It is believed that paprika was introduced into Hungary by the Turks, who ruled there for 150 years. How it arrived in Turkey (c.1513) is another story.

Paprika is the ground, dried ripe pods of several sweet varieties of the Capsicum annuum. The color, aroma and taste of paprika depend upon where it is grown, the exact variety of the pod used and the grinding process.

The highest grade is obtained only when the pods are carefully graded and only the flesh and seeds are ground. Stalks and stems are used in lower grades. Paprika can also be adulterated with additions such as cornstarch or cornmeal.

Hungarian paprika is prized by discriminating cooks for its natural color and rich flavor, supposedly due to the climate and soil where it is grown in the southern towns of Szeged and Kalocsa. Imported paprika from Szeged can be purchased either sweet or hot.

All three of this month's recipes contain liberal amounts of paprika. Note that it is added to the fat, which has been cooled slightly or taken off the heat. The fat helps disperse the paprika evenly so it does not lump, and heating it briefly helps bring out the flavor.

The paprika should not brown, or it will spoil both the flavor and color and become bitter. The quantity can be adjusted to taste so that the dish is as mild or hot as desired. In the absence of hot paprika, add a little cayenne pepper. Marika used a combination of lard and sunflower oil. The amount of oil was increased when the weather was cold.

The Pörkölt is traditionally made with veal, but is equally delicious with pork, poultry or fish. When using chicken, reduce the cooking time so the chicken is tender.

When using fish, choose large cod or snapper fillets or cod cheeks; remove bones, if any. Simmer onion and paprika together with a little water for five minutes. Add fillets, spoon sauce over the top and simmer just until the fish is tender. Remove fish and reduce sauce if too thin.

One can also add sour cream to this dish. Sour cream is almost as characteristic of Hungarian cuisine as the paprika. Gentle heating neither thins nor curdles it. It should not boil. Low or non-fat sour cream also works well.

The sausages used in the potato dish and soup have Hungarian names, but some are not available in this area. There are two types used: One is hard like salami and made with paprika and smoked; the other type is bratwurst or bockwurst, a white one made with veal or pork.

Substitute with salami, Polish, linguica or kielbasa. There are many varieties from which to choose, including a low-fat version. My favorite is smoked linguica de casa made by Goulart's and is available at Greenview Market in Arcata.

This one is made with chunks of pork and paprika, and is very flavorful and lean. Silva brand linguica is also good. Both bockwurst and bratwurst are available.

Most of these sausages have been cooked and need only to be reheated. Uncooked varieties should be cooked first. Today's recipes are some of Marika's.



(Paprika-flavored stew)

This can be made using veal, beef, pork, poultry or fish. The use of chicken parts and the addition of one cup sour cream mixed with one tablespoon flour, stirred in at the end of the cooking time, will produce the well-known dish Chicken Paprika.
2 pounds beef rump or shoulder.
2 large onions, chopped
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1-2 tablespoons hot paprika or sweet with some cayenne
1 cup water
1 teaspoon salt

Slice meat 1/3-inch thick and cut into 1 1/2-inch squares.
Heat oil and sauté onions. Cool a little before adding the paprika so it doesn't burn, or it will be bitter. Stir it around; add the beef and water.
Tough cuts of meat may require a little more water. Cover tightly and simmer for one hour or until the meat is tender. The finished dish should have a thick, rich gravy. If too saucy at the end , remove meat and reduce sauce by boiling off some of the liquid.

Serve with boiled or baked potatoes, rice or pasta (Spaetzle), and a green salad. A marrow bone simmered with the meat improves the flavor.



Paprikas Krumpli

Use at least one hard smoky sausage and one white veal or pork sausage.
4 tablespoons oil
2 large onions, sliced
8-10 large waxy potatoes cut into quarters lengthwise
2 tablespoons sweet paprika
6-8 slices salami cut into small pieces
1 smokey linguica or kielbasa with paprika, cut into thick slices
1 or 2 cooked bratwurst or bockwurst split in half lengthwise
1-2 green peppers, cut into strips

Sauté the onions in the oil; cool a little before adding the paprika and salami. Cook together for 1-2 minutes. Add the potatoes and coat with the sauce.

Add a little water, cover and steam for about 20 minutes or until potatoes are barely tender. Shake the pan rather than stir so the potatoes do not mash.

Add linguica, bratwurst, and green pepper strips. Reheat for several minutes. Do not overcook the peppers. Serve with green salad and French bread.



Hungarian Kraut Soup

Hungarians believe this delicious soup will alleviate the effects of over imbibing. Thus it is called "hangover" or "tippler's" soup.
3 slices lean bacon, cut into small pieces
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large onion, sliced
2 carrots, sliced
3 stalks celery, sliced or use diced celeriac
1 tablespoon paprika, sharp or sweet
6 cups beef broth
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 to 1 pound linguica sausage, sliced into 1-inch pieces
2 cups sauerkraut, rinsed, drained and chopped
1 cup sour cream

Sauté bacon; add garlic and onion, and fry until tender. Remove from heat and stir in paprika.

Add carrots, celery, broth, tomato paste, sugar and lemon and simmer for 20 minutes. Add sausage and chopped sauerkraut, simmer for 10 minutes.
Serve hot with dollops of sour cream and a hearty dark bread.

Betty Thompson has taught cooking classes locally since 1974.

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