For the second meal for my Global Eats project, I traveled to the Central European country of Hungary. I brought the other two members of the Hungry Trio along with me.
Hungarian cuisine is quintessential Central European food. The focus is on meats and cheeses. Starches like potatoes and noodles are also commonly found. Of course, there is also the most common and probably most famous Hungarian ingredient: paprika.
I was actually a bit shocked when I first learned that paprika was so popular in Hungary. Paprika is made from dried and ground chile peppers. Chile peppers are not what come to mind when I think of European food. The crux of Mexican food, sure, but not a Central European country like Hungary.
What I learned, however, is that these chile peppers (originating in Mexico) were introduced to Europe when Christopher Columbus returned to Spain. Paprika was originally used for medicinal purposes. It wasn’t until the 18th century when it was introduced as a cooking spice. Apparently, Hungary has a particularly ideal climate for growing chile peppers. That is why their paprika has a unique quality. For a long time, Hungary cultivated only hot peppers for paprika. The sweet peppers were not grafted until the 1920s. Today, you can find so many variations of Hungarian paprika (sweet, sweet & smoked, hot, hot & smoked).
I personally love paprika. It is a spice I use frequently, in both smoked and non-smoked versions. I think the main reason I am so obsessed with seasoned salt is because paprika is one of the ingredients. It is what gives it its color. One of my favorite uses of paprika is sprinkling on some pierogi right before I pan fry them. Chris’s mom periodically sends him home with a few dozen potato pierogi homemade by members of the Ukrainian Catholic church. They make me feel like I am back in Pittsburgh.
When I think of Hungarian cuisine, goulash is probably the first dish that comes to mind. I had this weird concept of goulash as a child because it reminded me of the word galoshes. I don’t think I ever had a good concept of what the dish was. I just could never think of goulash without thinking of rain boots. I don’t know if it was that childhood memory, but I decided against making goulash for my Hungarian meal.
Instead, I wanted to make paprikas csirke (chicken paprikash). I have seen so many Americanized versions of chicken paprikash floating that I didn’t even know this was a traditional Hungarian dish for the longest time. I always just thought it was the chicken version of beef stroganoff. I felt this would be a good meal to make, as I do tend to prefer chicken over beef. Plus, Chris gave me this dreamy look when I mentioned wanting to make it. When I found this recipe from the Daring Gourmet, I knew this was going to be a hit with the Hungry Trio. The three of us are serious fans of braised dark chicken meat. A rich and creamy paprika-infused sauce was going to be just the perfect thing to season this chicken.
This recipe was fairly easy to shop for, as most of the ingredients are readily available in my local supermarkets. I did turn to the Internet to source the paprika. The recipe said that it would be best to use paprika imported from Hungary. That is not the easiest ingredient to come across in stores, so I bought some on Amazon. It may seem odd that I would go out of my way to get a specialized ingredient when there is paprika in the stores, but I felt it would be worth it to get a more authentic and flavorful experience.
Cooking this recipe was enjoyable. It was easy to follow, and my apartment filled up with this amazing smell. The spice smells good on its own, but when heated, it creates such a warm and inviting scent. My favorite part of cooking this meal was when I added the paprika to the pot with the onions sautéing in butter. That smell was so divine that I cannot even describe it or I might just completely melt.
The chicken braised nicely for the next 40 minutes while we waited for the game to start. Right at the end is when we added this mixture of gluten free flour, sour cream, and heavy cream. It gave the sauce this lighter color and a luscious look.
To pair with this meal, I chose a recipe for smoked paprika green beans with roasted cherry tomatoes. We really only used the recipe as inspiration and came up with our own cooking method. Since we were running low on time and ran out of room on the stove, we decided to roast everything in the oven together instead of blanching the green beans. I had just made roasted green beans the other day. It is becoming my preferred method of cooking green beans.
I had bought some egg noodles for the guys as a nice bed for the paprikash. I chose chickpeas noodles for myself since they are gluten free. The last step was cooking our pasta. Once the pasta was cooked, we were ready to eat this delicious smelling meal.
My initial reaction was focused on how amazing this chicken was. After all this time, I don’t know why I am still so surprised when I have such tender chicken after a slow braise (especially thighs), but I was amazed when I bit into this tender piece of meat. In this instance, though, ‘tender’ wasn’t the best word to describe this chicken. That would be ‘flavorful.’ This chicken was so packed full of flavor; my mouth was watering before we even sat down with our bowls. That scent just kept wafting through my nostrils and inserting pure joy into my body. (And I needed that as I sat there and watched the Patriots narrow victory in the AFC Championship). I really do think spending the money to specially order Hungarian paprika was worth it.
If you don’t already believe me about how amazing this dish was, here is more proof. I brought leftovers to work for lunch the next day. I heated my dish up in the microwave and took it back to my office. As I walked back to my office, I had multiple people notice and comment on how amazing this dish smelled. Trust me, it tastes as good as it smells. I highly recommend that everyone reading this stop what they are doing and make this dish. Just be prepared for complete satisfaction.
I wrote a post about this already, but I was quite pleased with my chickpea noodles. I feel like they are a really good pasta substitute. They are entirely made out of chickpeas, but I truly got the feeling of eating pasta. That is impressive given that pasta is practically my middle name. Though if you ask three year old me, my middle name is actually popsicle butter. I used to tell my family that my name was Catie Jo “peanut butter jelly popsicle butter” Duckworth. I even used to write that on my school work in first or second grade. To say I was born a foodie would be an understatement.
I was so pleased with our meal, and I got so much out of it. The three of us each had two servings for dinner that night, and then I got another three servings out of the leftovers. I did use more meat than it called for, since I bought a package of thighs and a package of legs, but it still is a hefty recipe. When I was done eating the paprikash, I wasn’t ready to be move on from this delicious paprika. I let this train stay in Hungary for just a little while longer. I decided to make goulash after all.
The goulash might have been even easier to make than the paprikash, because I didn’t have to keep taking the meat in and out. It did take much longer to cook though. I let the goulash simmer for at least an hour and a half after getting all the ingredients in my dutch oven.
I used this recipe from Spending with Pennies. The only difference being that I replaced the potatoes with turnips to eliminate more carbs. When Chris made these the week prior, I really did come to see how they could be an excellent replacement for potatoes.
This goulash also filled my apartment with the amazing smell of paprika. Only, this time there was also the aroma of beef, as well. I really enjoyed this dish. I believe I got five large bowls out of this recipe. I won’t say that I like this as much as the paprikash. The reason being is that I am not a huge beef fan. Stewing beef can get so tough and chewy. This one was actually quite tender for beef. It is just not my preferred cut of meat. I honestly don’t eat beef very often. I use ground beef for meatballs and meatloaf, and I do enjoy an occasional steak or burger. Outside of that, I don’t really eat or buy beef. This experience has made me not want to rule beef out in my cooking as much as I do. However, I will probably still eat mostly chicken.
This wraps up my journey to Hungary, land of paprika. Stay tuned, as I have an exciting adventure planned next.