Traditional Hungarian cuisine is for those with hearty appetites. Soup is an essential starter and while main courses are generous and meaty, vegetarian options are often limited in variety. Most menus do offer fish, including local pike perch, trout and catfish, vegetable stews and pasta often with potato, cabbage or curd.
Must try specialties include goose liver, salami (spicy sausage) and stuffed cabbage.
Fabulous desserts include assorted strudels with a variety of tasty fillings, tortes and the legendary Gundel pancakes with walnut filling and chocolate rum sauce.
Salads are pickled vegetables of cucumbers, cabbage or tomatos. Green salad is a recent addition to the menu and it does not take centre stage in traditional Hungarian cuisine. But what many Hungarians miss out on when it comes to vegetables, they make up for by eating plenty of fresh (and often organically grown) fruit, particularly melons, berries, cherries, peaches, apricots and tomatoes. It is worth avoiding the supermarkets and going to a local grocer or a market for something home-grown to snack on.
Some basic ingredients and cooking techniques make Hungarian dishes hearty and spicy. Hungarian paprika powder gives a unique taste and fiery color to typical Hungarian meals, but don‘t think that Hungarian dishes made with paprika are burning hot. Usually sweet paprika is used to make stews, goulash, paprika chicken and hot paprika is offered separately. Some other common ingredients are onions, garlic, caraway seed, black pepper and a variety of herbs incuding parsley, bay leaves, tarragon, celery, thyme and savory.
Braising onions in hot lard and adding paprika to it are the first basic steps of making authentic Hungarian stews, paprikás or goulash. Sour cream is another essential ingredient in Hungarian recipes. It’s added to soups, pastas, casseroles and even desserts. Although most authentic Hungarian dishes require lard nowadays restuarants and housewives use vegetable oil instead of pork fat.
Soak 700-750 g goose liver for one hour in sufficient cold milk to cover, then drain and wipe dry. Braise 1.5 kg diced goose fat with 30-40 cl cold water and 1 medium onion cut into quarters, then reduce the liquid until only the fat is left and strain. Heat the fat, place the liver in it and fry over a gentle heat until the liver is tender and golden. Remove from the fat, cut into thin slices and serve immediately sprinkled with a little sweet paprika.
Recommended wines: Hajósi cabernet, Villányi vörös
Crepes Hortobágy-style / Hortobágyi palacsinta (for 4 persons)
Make a stew from 400 g diced leg of veal, 2 tablespoons of fat, 1 medium onion and 1 teaspoon paprika. Mince the meat, mix with 1-2 tablespoons of sour cream, add salt and pepper to taste. Boil the juice of the stew together with 25 cl sour cream. Fry 12 salted pancakes and fill with the minced meat, tucking in the ends. Arrange in an ovenproof dish and pour the paprika and sour cream sauce over the pancakes. Heat through in the oven, sprinkle with sour cream and serve decorated with parsley.
Recommended wines: Dry Rieslings
100 g/4 oz soft ewe cheese, 100g/4 oz butter, 2 teaspoon paprika, 2 teaspoon mustard, 2 tablespoon beer, half teaspoon ground caraway seeds, 1 bunch chopped chives or 1 tablespoon chopped onion to garnish.
Work with the cheese and butter at room temperature. Mix all the ingredients thoroughly together to make a smooth paste. Decorate with chopped chives or onion. This spread is usually eaten with toast or crusty bread, but it can also be used for stuffing peppers. The beer makes it creamy and enhances its taste. Traditionally, the spread is prepared at the table, during a beer-drinking session.
Recommended drink: Beer
250 g/20 oz fresh crispy pork fat (crackling), 500 g/1 lb flour, 20 g/1 oz yeast, 100 ml/2 and half fl oz milk, 2 egg yolks, 200 ml/one third pint sour cream, 1 level teaspoon ground white pepper, salt
Dissolve the yeast in the lukewarm milk. Make a dough from the flour, chopped crackling, egg yolks, sour cream, milk/yeast mixture, and pepper and salt to taste. If the dough is too stiff, add a little more milk. Cover and leave in a warm place to rise for about 1 and half hours.
When well-risen rool out the dough on a floury patry board to 2 cm/1 in thickness. Make a lattice pattern on the dough with knife, and cut circles with 3-4 cm/2 in diameter cutter. Place on a baking sheet and leave to rise again for about 30 minutes. Brush the top of the scones with egg yolks. Bake in a fairly hot oven (200 C/400 F) for 40 minutes until golden brown.
Recommended wines: These savouries are excellent with dry white wines
Finely chop a large onion and lightly fry in 2 tablespoons of fat. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of red paprika, toss in 400 g beef cut into cubes, add salt, a green pepper and a tomato and steam under lid until almost tender. Add 200 g of mixed sliced carrot and parsley root (white carrot), 300 g diced potatoes, caraway seeds if liked, and 1.2 liter of water. Cover and simmer until tender. When serving a few rings of hot green peppers can be added to garnish.
The famous Hungarian gulash is actually a soup, but with the plenty of meats, potatoes and noodles, it can be eaten as a main course.
Beat 1 egg and slowly add 4 tablespoons flour 1 spoon at a time using a fork to ensure it is smooth. Use a small teaspoon to scrape into boiling salted water. Dumplings will pop to top of water – boil another 5-7 minutes. Drain and add to Goulash Soup.
Hint: Don’t boil the dumplings in the stew – it will make the liquid starchy and cloudy
500-600 g/1 lb smoked knuckle of pork, 150 g/6 oz dried speckled beans, 1 carrot (sliced), 1 parsley root (sliced), 1 small onion, 1 clove of garlic,
Ingredients for roux
1 tablespoon of lard, 1 tablespoon of flour, 200 ml/ one third pint sour cream, paprika
Soak the pork with the beans for 24 hours, to remove some of the salt. Cook the meat in fresh water with the onion and garlic, for about 1 and half hours, until the skin is tender. Remove the onion and garlic and taste the stock to see if more salt should be added. If it is too salty, take out some of the liquid and dilute with more water. Add the beans and other vegetables and simmer until they are cooked (about 1 and half hours more). If the soup is very greasy, let it cool down and skim the fat from the surface. Prepare a roux from the lard and flour, stir in the paprika, then the sourcream. Pour into the soup and bring to the boil. To serve cut the meat into pieces, put a piece in each soup plate and pour the soup over.
150 g/6 oz mushrooms, stock made from 500 g/1 lb pork or beef bones, half an onion (chopped), 1 tablespoon lard, 1 level tablespoon flour, 100 ml/2 and half fl oz sour cream, paprika, half a bunch chopped parsley, salt
Wash the mushroom and cut into thin slices. Heat the lard and fry the mushrooms gently, covered, for 10 min. Add the onion and brown at low heat, stirring occasionally, until all the water has evaporated. Add the salt, flour and chopped parsley. Stir together for a minute then sprinkle with paprika.
Pour 1 liter of stock onto the mushrooms and stir well. Add the sour cream, stir well and serve.
A refreshing way to start a meal on a hot summer day. Many other kinds of fruit can be used like stawberries, blackcurrants, rhubarb, gooseberries.
500 g/1 lb sour cherries (ripe and pitted), 150 g/6 oz sugar, grated peel of half a lemon, pinch of salt, ground cinnamon, 1 tablespoon flour, 100 ml/2 and half fl oz sour cream
In a large pan put 1.5 liters (2.5 pints) of water, sugar, salt, lemon peel, and cinnamon. Boil for 3-4 minutes then taste to see if the liquid is well-flavoured. If not, let it boil further and reduce for another few minutes.
Add the cherries to the boiling water and simmer for 4-5 minutes. Mix the cream and the flour then stir in slowly a ladle of hot cherry juice. Pour into the soup and boil until it thickens. Leave to cool, serve chilled.
2 heads of lettuce, 50 g/2 oz smoked bacon (diced), 1 clove of garlic, 100 ml/2 and half fl oz sour cream, 2 tablespoon wine vinegar or juice of 1 lemon, 1 teaspoon sugar, salt
Wash and dry the lettuce thoroughly, discarding any limp outside leaves. Cut each lettuce into four, place in salad bowl and sprinkle with salt and sugar.
Fry the bacon until the fat runs. Put the pieces of bacon aside and fry the crushed garlic gently in the fat. Stir in the sour cream and vinegar, and bring almost the boil. Pour the hot dressing over the lettuce, dredge with crispy bacon.
MEAT, POULTRY, GAME
Finely chop a large onion and fry it in 2 tablespoons of oil until it becomes transparent. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of mild or hot paprika, toss in a 1.2 kg chicken meat and fry it for a few minutes over a strong heat until it browns. Add a green pepper and a tomato, both sliced, salt and simmer in its own stew under a lid until tender, stirring occasionally. If the water is not enough, replenish it. Blend 1-2 teaspoons of flour in 40-50 cl sour cream and add to the meat, boil well together. Add salt if needed. Serve with gnocchi tossed in butter or noodles.
Chicken paprika with pinched noodles and a fine rich paprika gravy is not exactly suitable for a weight-reducing diet, but it is very delicious
800 g/one and three tenderloin, fat rendered from 100 g/4 oz smoked bacon, 200 g/8 oz goose liver, 200 g/8 oz field mushrooms, 2 sweet peppers, 2 small onions (chopped), 1 teaspoon tomato purée, 2 teaspoon paprika, 2 tablespoon oil, ground white pepper, salt
Fry the onion in the bacon fat until it becomes transparent. Add the tomato purée and stir a few minutes until brown. Season with paprika. Remove from the heat, add the diced peppers and sliced mushrooms. Season with salt, cover the pan and braise for 10 minutes.
Cut goose liver into cubes, add to the vegetables and braise for 10 minutes at low heat. Leave aside in a warm place.
Cut the tenderloin into 100 g/4 oz steaks, season with pepper and salt, fry them in hot oil until brown on both sides. Arrange on a serving dish, cover with sauce and serve hot.
Plain boiled rice is the best accompaniment to these rich, tasty fillet steaks. In Hungary it is sometime served with fried potatoes also.
Recommended wines: Szekszárdi kadarka, Egri bikavér
600 g/1 lb 6 oz goose liver, 150 g/ 6 oz goose fat, 2 eggs, 50 g/2 oz flour, 150 g/6 oz breadcrumbs, salt
Cut the liver into 8 equal slices. Beat each slice to flatten it. Salt slightly. Roll the slices in flour, beaten egg and breadcrumbs, shaking off the surplus. Heat the fat, fry each slice until golden brown on both sides (use flat spoon to turn them over). Don’t overcook the liver, it should stay pink in the centre. Serve with rice or fried potatoes.
Recommended wines: Hajósi cabernet, Villányi vörös
Mix 300 g minced pork with 50 g diced smoked bacon, 1 medium onion, 1 egg, 80 g boiled rice, 1 clove crushed garlic, salt, pepper and paprika. Rolls this filling up in 4 pickled cabbage leaves, tucking in the ends. Cook 300 g sparerib of pork until tender, add a bayleaf to the liquid and 1 kg slightly washed sauerkraut. Make hollows for the four cabbage rolls and cook until tender. Thicken with a roux made of 2 tablespoon of fat, 40 g flour and paprika. Boil thoroughly. Serve with the smoked meat cut into small pieces, boiled Debrecen paprika sausage and sour cream.
Recommended wines Badacsonyi kéknyelű , Badacsonyi olaszrizling
Slice 80 g smoked bacon into thin strips. Fry until the fat runs then add 1 large chopped onion and fry until transparent. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon paprika, add 500 g cleaned and quartered tomatoes and 1 kg green peppers cut in rings or strips, and small round cuts of kolbasz. Add salt to taste, steam for 10 minutes under lid and then braise gently without a lid until tender. Sausage or frankfurters can be added to make the dish more substantial. Like “pörkölt” (stewed meat flavoured with paprika), lecsó is the basis of many Hungarian dishes.
Recommended wines: Pusztamérgesi rizling, Pusztamérgesi ezerjó
Knead a stiff dough from 400 g plain flour, 4 eggs and salt. Roll out thin then tear into small pieces, boil in a salted water and strain. Cut into dice 100 g smoked bacon, fry until the fat runs, toss the boiled dumplings in the fat. Mix together with 250 g curd of either cow’s or ewe’s milk, 20 cl sour cream, add salt to taste and pour into an ovenproof dish. Crumble another 250 g curd over the top, sprinkle with another 20 cl sour cream, sprinkle with small strips of fried bacon, place briefly in the oven to heat through and serve immediately.
6 eggs, 6 tbsp of sugar, 6 level tbsp of flour, vanilla flavouring, 2 heaped tbsp cocoa powder
100 g/4 oz butter, 100 g/4 oz ground walnuts, 200 ml milk, 1 heaped tbsp sugar, 1 tbsp rum, 1 heaped tsp flour
200 ml milk, 1 egg, 1 heaped tbsp sugar, 100 g/4 oz butter, 1 heaped tsp flour, 2 heped tbsp cocoa
300 ml/half pint whipping cream, 100 ml/2 and half fl oz milk, 1 tbsp rum, 100 g/4 oz sugar, 2 tbsp cocoa powder, 1 handful raisins sokaed in rum
Make a vanilla cake and a chocolate cake as follows: sperate the eggs and beat the yolks with sugar until thick and frothy. Fold in the flour. Beat the egg whites until stiff, fold them into the butter.
Divide the cake batter in two parts. Flavor one part with 2 heaped tbsp cocoa and the other with vanilla. Put each mixture into the cake tins. Bake for about 15 min, until the cakes come away from edges of the tin. Turn out onto a cake rack and leave to cool.
Prepare a nut cream by mixing the walnuts with the butter, milk, flour, sugar and rum. Bring to boil, stirring well, then remove from the heat. Leave to cool, then spread over one of the cakes, sprinkle with raisins and put the other cake on top.
To make the chocolate cream, mix the milk with the beaten egg, butter, flour, sugar and cocoa. Heat slowly, stirring, until thick. Don’t let the mixture boil. Leave to cool a bit, then spread on the top of the cake and leave to rest. When the cream is stiff, cut the cake into little squares and pile them up on a dish. Mix the milk with 50 g/2 oz sugar and the rum, pour over the cake. Decorate with whipped cream.
Before serving, mix the remaining cocoa with sugar and a little water to make a thick sauce and pour over the the whipped cream.
Recommended drinks: Somlói furmint, Debrői Hárslevelű , Capuccino
Use 2 packets of ready-made strudel patry (4 sheets each). Unfold the pastry on a clean cloth and brush with melted butter.
To make the first filling, mix 200 g seeded grapes with 2 tablespoons redcurrant jam, 50 gr castor sugar 50 g chopped hazelnuts and yolk of 1 egg. Heap this up on one set of pastry sheets and roll it up.
For the other roll, roughly grate 200 g peeled apples, squeeze out the juice, add 50 g chopped walnuts, 2 tablespoons of dry breadcrumbs, 50 g castor sugar flavored with cinnamon and use this mix to fill the roll. Place both rolls in a baking dish, brush the rolls with butter and bake in a hot oven until golden brown. Allow to cool a little before slicing. Serve sprinkled with icing sugar.
Recommended wines: Debrői hárslevelű , Tokaji aszú
Beat 6 eggs yolks with 120 g castor sugar, then gradually add 200 g flour and the stiffly beaten whites of 6 eggs and 30 g melted butter. Spread on a upturned, greased and floured sponge tin and bake 6-10 rounds from mixture. Caramelize 150 g sugar with 1-2 drops of vinegar and pour over the most attractive slice. Before the toffee hardens, use a knife to cut lines on the surface to mark the slices. To make the cream filling, mix 4 spoons of milk, 150 g castor sugar and 100 g grated chocolate in a bowl over boiling water, beating until thick. Allow to cool then whisk with 20 g castor sugar flavored with vanilla and 200 g butter. Spread this cream on the sponge rings and on the side of the cake, carefully place the ring with the toffee on the top and decorate with whipped cream.
Recommended wine: Tokaji édes szamorodni
The most distinguished place in the order of the main Christmas dishes, along with the roast turkey, is taken by the rich marbled Walnut and Poppy Seed Rolls. Whether they are made of pastry or raised dough, whether the filling is rich or more modest, they are always the pride of the Hungarian hostess, even if she herself has not made them, but only ordered them from a confectioner.
Recommended wines: Balatoni rizling, Tokaji édes szamorodni