Monday, April 1, 2013

Review of The Hungarian Cookbook, and a recipe for non-vegetarian lentil soup

I have been feeling nostalgic lately for when I was just 20 years old and lucky enough to spend four months in Europe.  I wish I could travel far and wide again, though it would be pretty difficult with two young children.  Luckily, I have my old journal, and kept very good notes on my time in Europe.  I can revisit those old times in my imagination....  One way to bring these old memories back is to remember through cuisine.

I remember the food and the wine in Hungary to be very special.  The prices were affordable, and it was so delicious.  I recently bought a Hungarian cookbook for myself. It is The Hungarian Cookbook, by Susan Derecskey, and I do like it quite a bit.  After much searching, I found some Hungarian paprika at Target of all places. (Archer Farms was the brand, and it comes in a nice square glass jar, though I didn't notice much of a taste difference from the Simply Organic paprika that also sits on my spice rack in a very similar clear square glass jar.)

I thought I would share one recipe from this cookbook here on my blog. It will give you a feel for the style in which it presents instructions.  (But first I will torture you with my own librariany thoughts on the cookbook its self, if you can stand it.  Otherwise, just skip the next paragraph.)  

I found the book to be a bit quirky because it basically assumes that the reader knows how to cook, and it feels a lot like reading my grandmother's handwritten recipe notes.  Some aspects to the instructions are perfectly detailed, and others are more vague.  For example, at one point it assumed I would have no hesitation throwing a nearly whole onion into a soup pot.  This was a false assumption because I like my onions chopped finely.  However if I did not read and think through the entire recipe, I would have experienced some extra frustration trying to fish out all those nice small pieces of onion that I spent time and tears chopping nice and small.  That said, my grandmother's handwritten cooking notes are a real treasure to me, and I very much enjoyed the adventure of digging into each recipe as though it were a puzzle with many possible correct answers.  I do like this cookbook, other than I wish the index were more detailedTo be fair, I nearly always want to complain about the indexes of cookbooks.  Okay, enough torture, here's the recipe for lentil soup that I promised Megan a while ago. I added a few of my own notes in italics.

Lentil Soup
     (len-che le-vesh)

1 1/2 cups (about 3/4 pound) dried lentils
1 tablespoon salt - I discovered this was too much salt for my tastes
2 leafy celery stalks 
2 carrots
1 leek or medium onion
2 cloves garlic, peeled and stuck on toothpicks
3 peeled tomatoes, preferably canned
1/2 medium green pepper, cut in 1/2 inch strips
2-ounce piece of smoked bacon - Resist the urge to add extra bacon.  I made this mistake... and it really does taste better with only a little bit.
3 frankfurters, sliced.  I added half a package of polish kielbasa based on a suggestion in the first section of the cookbook.

Wash the lentils in cold water and pick them over, discarding any shriveled or black ones.  Place them in a large, heavy-bottomed soup pot, and add 6 cups of cold water and the salt.  Simmer, covered, for 45 minutes.  If desired, puree all or some of the lentils at this point, or leave them whole.  Add the cleaned vegetables to the pot as well as the smoked bacon.  Bring back to the simmer and continue cooking for about 45 minutes or until the lentils are tender.  Remove the celery, onion, garlic, and bacon from the soup and discard them; remove the carrots and leek, slice them in 1/2 inch pieces, and put them back in the soup.  The tomatoes should have dissolved; if not, mash them with a fork.  About 15 minutes before serving, bring the soup back to the simmer and add the frankfurter slices.  Cook at least 10 minutes, and serve the soup.

If you try the recipe, do let me know what you thought! 

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