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Feeling Hungary

Mister North’s recent trip to Hungary made me very very envious as a weekend of beer, pork and paprika is definitely something I would revel in. I decided to create a little Magyar magic at home and make goulash with the lovely looking tube of gulyáskrém he brought me…

Paprika in a tube...

Strangely I loathe, despise and abhor peppers, yet I adore paprika. Something about the drying and grinding of peppers to obtain this rich intricate spice seems to remove the taste of a regular bell pepper that I hate so much. I’m not quite sure how that works, but I’m very glad it does, since avoiding the unexpected addition of peppers is the bane of my life when eating away from home. Such is my hatred of these vile fruits that I try to avoid walking past them in shops in case I get a whiff of them. At risk of sounding like the princess and the pepper, I can even tell if you used the same knife for peppers and and didn’t wash it before moving on to something else. It is impossible to cut peppers up small enough that I won’t notice them in a dish…

Yet I add paprika to everything I possibly can. Along with anchovy sauce, black pepper and Maldon salt, it is my essential can’t live without it food flavouring. I tend to fill up the famous La Chinata tins with cheaper tastier paprika bought from my local Portuguese deli and I like to keep all types in the spice cupboard, but favour the sweet paprika most generally.

Keen to try the new spicy paprika cream Mister North had provided, I set about finding an authentic sounding goulash recipe that didn’t involve adding in strips of bell pepper. This was quite difficult to find as many of those that omitted peppers relied on other ingredients like dried ceps to make life more awkward and expensive. I eventually found what I was looking for thanks to the lovely Liz at Gastronomy Domine and set about making a paprika infused, pepper free stew to tantalise the taste buds!

The recipe is very easy to follow. I used goose fat to brown the meat since the Hungarians are the most goose obsessed nation on earth. Everything was easy to come by and apart from an exploding tube of tomato puree, everything was straightfoward. I was making the goulash for about 3-4 people, but used the same amounts of paprika as Liz suggested anyway. I also deglazed the pan with some red wine as that was all I had to hand. This rich heavily scented stew was ready for the oven about 15 minutes after starting. I popped it in for 2 hours and settled down with a glass of red wine as delicious aromas filled the house.

Ready for the oven...

A few hours later, I pulled this stew out of the oven and realised I had turned the oven up too high and carbonised this round the edges! Luckily the meat and sauce were fairly easy to salvage and once I’d added some lemon juice, it all looked deliciously thick and tasty. Rather than make the nokedli mentioned in the recipe, I served this slightly singed stew with some plain pasta.

Ready to eat!

And it was delicious! Rich, deep paprika-y flavours with just the right amount of tang from the tomato puree and the lemon juice and a slight warmth from the gulyáskrém. Surprisingly it was quite light to eat on a warm night despite its reputation for being a heavy dish. The meat was a bit tough from my mistake with the temperature, but tasty enough to do justice to the sauce. I will definitely be making this lovely paprika spiked stew once more…I’ll just double check the heat of the oven first!

Lángos and beer for breakfast…

The locals love lángos

(Mister North’s in Budapest for an old university friend’s wedding this weekend). I was determined to enjoy lángos for breakfast, as I’d read it’s as Magyar a food experience as paprika or goose liver, and much more unhealthy.

The local English language edition of Time Out recommended a stand-up gaff in Fény utcai piac market near Moszkva Tér. My friend and I wandered about, eyes on stalks at the profusion of local produce, from freshly picked cherries and strawberries, kohlrabi and paprika to kolbász sausages and fogas (pike-perch from Lake Balaton). Eventually we tracked down a tiny stall at the back of the building: the smell of fat and garlic wafted across the queue of punters waiting patiently for their cholesterol levels to be boosted heartily.

We tried ordering two sima lángos (the basic kind where one paints on a garlic paste and flakes of salt) in halting Hungarian, but the nice lady behind the counter helped up out by replying in much less poor English. We also decided to accompany these with a pint of the local dark beer (well, most locals seemed to be doing this even though it was only mid-morning, so who where we to argue?)

It may’ve been unhealthy, but boy was it ever good. Think deep-fried garlic bread or focaccia; light yet filling, with a superbly nutty beer on the side. Next time I’d like to graduate to the significantly more unhealthy sour cream and cheese numbers which are so popular with the locals. Who needs an Ulster fry when you can have your heart attack on a napkin in your hand, with a pint on the side? Marvellous!

I’m surprised we Norn Irish folk haven’t fully embraced lángos: they may be ‘foreign’ but after all they’re made with flour and potato, deep fried, and salted heavily. If it wasn’t for the lashings of garlic on the top I’d suggest this would be a prime candidate take over kebabs and pizza as a post-pub meal in Belfast on a Saturday night.