cooking with love + paprika

When it comes to family, András and I couldn't have been born into better ones— we adore our own parents, and each others. But while we're fortunate to see my family four, five, sometimes six times a year, the 4,000-odd miles between us and Hungary, where András is from, means that will never be the case for him. We do our best. We visit once a year and stay as long as we can, we Skype each Sunday and email photos back and forth. But still, truth be told, I take for granted that they—these four healthy grandparents Greta has, András parents, and my own, will still be there, strong and lively as ever on the one day when we hope we can stay a little longer, visit more often.

Recently, we had a scare with Anya, András mother, and it made me look those 4,000 miles straight in the eye. Everything turned out to be just fine, but it softened my too-rare sensitivity to the concession that for András, a life spent together with me would be a life apart for his family, too.

There's not a great deal I can do about that big ocean between us, but if there's one thing I know that brings home a little closer to him, it's cooking with love and paprika.  Lecsó--a stew of onion, pepper, and tomato thats loaded with the heady aroma of rich paprika, is the one meal we always eat when were in Hungary, no matter the season. And when we miss Hungary, and the people it holds, it is Lecsó I cook, serving it as his mother does, over thick slabs of rustic brown bread. If it is bread with flecks of caraway like the one she makes fresh most days, all the better.

Lecsó is not the most beautiful food on the planet, but its flavor can blind you. And it couldnt be simpler to make. The trick is finding the right peppers. Hungarian long green peppers are most like banana peppers or Italian frying peppers, thin and crunchy, and melt into the stew. You'll need a few hot Hungarian wax peppers—small, green and spicy—which for lack of ever finding them, I'm committed to growing in my garden forever more. I always use Hungarian paprika for this dish because of the round, rich flavor and depth it lends. 

Lecsó is great served warm or cold (though I prefer it warm), and because it keeps well for days in the fridge or freezer, I always make a big batch...maybe one even big enough to last until Thanksgiving.  



Serves 2 to 4

3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
4 long Hungarian, banana, or Italian frying peppers, seeded, deribbed, and thinly sliced
1 to 2 hot Hungarian wax peppers, seeded, deribbed, and thinly sliced
5 large firm, ripe tomatoes, chopped
2 tbsp Hungarian sweet paprika
1/2 tsp Hungarian hot paprika (csípős)
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Whole-grain bread
Butter, at room temperature

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and just golden brown, about 6 minutes. Add the peppers and stir to coat with oil. Season with about ½ tsp of salt. Cook the vegetables until softened, stirring often until they seem to melt together, about 10 minutes. Stir together the tomatoes and paprikas in a medium bowl and stir them into the vegetables in the pan. Continue cooking, seasoning with salt and pepper, stirring often until everything is soft, a roasted red color, and deeply flavored, about 10 minutes more. Serve warm over fresh buttered bread. 

All Photos + Recipes © Sarah Copeland 2012
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1 comment:

Lola said...

Thanks for sharing the story and recipe!

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New York City, United States
Sarah Copeland is a food and lifestyle expert, and the author of Feast: Generous Vegetarian Meals for Any Eater and Every Appetite, and The Newlywed Cookbook. She is the Food Director at Real Simple magazine, and has appeared in numerous national publications including Saveur, Health, Fitness, Shape, Martha Stewart Living and Food & Wine magazines. As a passionate gardener, Sarah's Edible Living philosophy aims to inspire good living through growing, cooking and enjoying delicious, irresistible whole foods. She thrives on homegrown veggies, stinky cheese and chocolate cake. Sarah lives in New York with her husband and their young daughter.