Pest, Buda and a Chicken Dish with Pepper from the Plains of Central Europe

Monday:                   Coconutty Beans and Greens

Tuesday:                   Scrambled Eggs Cacio e Pepe / Israeli Chopped Salad

Wednesday:            Creamy Potato-Fennel Soup

Light Snow in the Back Yard

Thursday:                 PFC

Friday:                       Franny’s Pizza Margherita

Saturday:                  Joe Beddia’s Pizza with Pepperoni and Mushrooms

Sunday:                     Chicken Paprikash with dumplings and Sour Cream and Cucumber Salad. 

Pest, Buda and a Chicken Dish with Pepper from the Plains of Central Europe 

Clearly, I should have edited the title above, but I’m not sure that it would have conveyed what I wanted to depict – the vast sun-swept plains of Central Europe, home to battles between Romans and Celts, then Magyars and Mongols and Ottomans, then Germans, then Russians; a place which, when it was not running with the blood of soldiers, refugees, and martyrs, was growing some of the best grain and grapes and, above all, peppers, in the world; a place where the cuisine is rich with spices and sauces and usually features an appetizer of foie gras; a place where military uniforms achieved the height of fantastic decoration – tassles, epaulets, ostrich plumes on helmets, sashes, striped trousers, double-breasted tunics, spurred boots, etc.; a place which produced the Gabor Sisters, Arthur Koestler and Bela Lugosi.  Actually, now that I think about it, no title could do that.   

So, rather than build up a sort of Marx Brothers Freedonia-like fantasy, I’m going to mention a bit of history, talk about some architecture, and then give you a recipe for one of the most satisfying winter dishes (chicken, again) that you will ever cook or eat. 

About that history – Buda and Pest were once two separate cities, directly across the Danube from each other.  Kind of like Allegheny City and Pittsburgh, although the Muslims and the Russians and Germans never tried to conquer Pittsburgh and Allegheny – but that’s neither here nor there.  There – in Hungary – the cities, finally rescued from the Ottoman Empire, were merged and became the co-capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  Budapest is now a huge city of nearly 2 million.  In that city – on the Pest side – was built a House of Parliament which is, in my opinion, the most beautiful building in the world.   

Here is a picture of it, taken from the Blue Danube.

 

I like Gothic, complicated, sprawling, etc.  The older buildings of the city, the castle, cathedral, and much history are on the Buda side which looks down on Pest, a bit like Mt. Washington overlooks Pittsburgh. 

In Hungary, paprika, in huge amounts, is used in almost all cooking.  Oddly enough, until the late 19th century, the Hungarians didn’t cook much with the spice, though they used the raw pepper.  But today, they make the best paprika in the world and they use handfuls of it in a wonderful dish which you may have had a knock-off version of:  Chicken Paprikash.  The Hungarian version, below, calls for much more paprika than Betty Crocker even knew existed, as well as fresh sweet and hot peppers, and the kind of simmer that produces deep flavor.  It is served with a sort of noodle-y dumpling called ‘nokedli) and a cucumber salad that will clear your mind and your sinuses.

Note:  Below the recipe is a picture of the interior of the Hungarian Houses of Parliament.  I really like the building.

HUNGARIAN CHICKEN PAPRIKASH (Paprikas Csirke)

(adapted from Milk Street Magazine) 

Timing:

95 Minutes (make the noodles and cucumber salad while the chicken cooks)

Ingredients:

3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs – trimmed (remove large pieces of fat)

½ cup jarred, roasted red peppers

2 banana peppers or wax peppers, 1 stemmed, seeded and finely chopped, 1 stemmed, seeded and thinly sliced and reserved for serving

1 large yellow onion

1 ripe medium tomato cored and chopped (2 or 3 of the calamari type available in groceries will do – the smallish ones don’t need to be cored)

¼ cup sweet paprika

4 teaspoons hot paprika, divided

2 tablespoons lemon juice, divided

1 teaspoon white sugar

2 cups chicken broth

¾ cup sour cream at room temperature

Hungarian dumplings to serve (recipe below)

Cucumber Salad with Sour Cream to serve (recipe below) 

Prep: 

Trim chicken, finely chop onion, prepare fresh peppers and tomatoes as detailed above, measure out other ingredients. 

In a blender, combine roasted peppers, 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, 1 teaspoon hot paprika, sugar and ½ teaspoon salt.  Purée until smooth, maybe 30 seconds, scraping down the sides of the blender as needed.   

Make sure you let the sour cream come to room temperature – this will reduce the chance that it will curdle when added to the dish. 

Cook: 

In a large Dutch oven over medium-high (a bit less, if you’re using a high-btu burner), heat oil until barely smoking.  Now stir in the onion, tomato and chopped banana pepper.  Cover, reduce to medium immediately and cook, stirring frequently, until tomato is broken down and onion is soft and light golden – 10-12 minutes. 

Now stir in the sweet paprika and the remaining 3 teaspoons of hot paprika, the broth and about half the pepper purée.  Bring to a simmer, then cover, reduce to low and cook, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes. 

Now add the chicken and stir until it is well coated.  Bring to a boil over medium-high, then cover, reduce to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until chicken is very tender (about 40 minutes) – a skewer inserted into the chicken will meet no resistance. 

Off the heat, stir in the remaining lemon juice and then push the chicken to the side.  Now add the remaining pepper purée and the sour cream to the liquid.  Whisk to incorporate, then stir to combine the sauce and chicken. 

Taste and correct seasoning with salt and black pepper. 

Serve, garnished with the sliced banana pepper and with the dumplings and cucumber salad. 

HUNGARIAN DUMPLINGS (NOKEDLI) 

Timing:                 40 minutes (30 minutes to let dough set up) 

Ingredients: 

2 cups AP flour

½ teaspoon grated nutmeg

2 large eggs

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

1 cup water 

Mix Batter: 

In a large bowl, whisk the flour, nutmeg, 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper together.  In a small bowl or measuring cup, whisk the eggs and 1 cup of water.  Add the egg mixture to the flour and whisk until you have a smooth batter.  Cover and let stand at room temp for 30 minutes.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and mist it with cooking spray.  (You’ll use this to hold the dumplings as they come out of the boiling water.) 

Cook Dumplings: 

Bring 4 quarts of water to boil in a large pot.  Stir in 1 tablespoon of salt.  Ladle about 1 cup of the batter onto a small cutting board and, holding it over the boiling water, use a butter knife to quickly scrape small bits of batter (narrow ribbons of it) into the boiling water.  Return the water to a boil and cook for 1 minute, stirring a few times.  The dumplings will float to the surface about 30 seconds before they are cooked through. 

Use a slotted spoon to scoop the dumplings out of the water, letting excess water fall back into the pot, then distribute in an even layer on the rimmed baking sheet.  Cover with foil to keep warm, cook the remaining batter in the same way. 

CUCUMBER SALAD WITH SOUR CREAM 

Timing:                                       1 Hour 

Ingredients: 

1 English cucumber, peeled, halved lengthwise, sliced thinly into half-moons.

¼ cup white vinegar (we used rice vinegar)

2 teaspoons white sugar

½ cup sour cream. 

Make the Salad: 

In a bowl, toss the cucumber with 1 teaspoon of salt.  Cover and let stand at room temperature for about 1 hour to remove excess moisture.  Drain in a colander and pat dry with paper towels.  Wipe out the bowl. 

In the bowl, combine the vinegar and sugar and whisk well until the sugar dissolves.  Now whisk in the sour cream, then add the cucumber and toss.  Taste and season with salt and pepper.

Interior, Hungarian Parliament