Hungarian recipes fresh from Budapest

My husband and I spent three glorious days together in Budapest while our children stayed with friends in nearby Vienna. We floated through Eastern Austria and Hungary by hydrofoil, the hillsides marked by an occasional castle or village. After several hours, the majestic Parliament building came into view, and my breath was taken away. Something was awakened deep in the DNA, passed on to me from my Budapest-born grandmothers.

Our first stop was the Nagy Vásárcsanok or Central Market Hall, where we bought pickles, fresh bread, plums, cheeses and sour cherry strudel. We took our picnic to a park in the shadow of the Dohany Synagogue. The synagogue was constructed in 1859 and was used as a Jewish internment center during the war. In 1996 it was restored, and it remains one of the world’s largest temples. It’s where Theodor Herzl had his bar mitzvah and Franz Liszt played the 5,000-tubed pipe organ.

American friends and Hungarians alike recommended many famous Budapest restaurants, but I was more interested in the everyday food. We had delicious food from street vendors, at the market and at a small restaurant filled with locals called Gerlóczy Kávéház that we stumbled into one evening.

Following are a few of the dishes I sampled during our little “getaway.”

Paradicsomleves (Tomato Soup with Mascarpone)

Serves 4

4 Tbs. sunflower oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

3 celery stalks, chopped

4 cups chopped tomatoes

2 cups vegetable stock

1 Tbs. sugar

black pepper and fine sea salt to taste

4 Tbs. mascarpone

4 Tbs. shredded basil leaves

Heat the oil in a soup pot. Add the onions and celery and saute over medium heat until tender. Add the tomatoes and the stock. Bring the simmer and let the soup cook for about 30 to 40 minutes. Season to taste with the pepper and salt. To serve, ladle the hot soup into 4 bowls. Garnish each serving with a tablespoon of mascarpone and shredded basil leaves.

Paprikasalata (Bell Pepper Salad)

Serves 4

2 Tbs. white wine vinegar

1 tsp. sugar

1 tsp. fine sea salt

1/2 tsp. white pepper

3 large green bell peppers,peeled, seeded and cut into1/4-inch strips

4 Tbs. mayonnaise

Combine the vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper in large bowl. Toss in the bell pepper strips and allow them to marinate for several hours. Just before serving, drain off the marinade, and toss the peppers with the mayonnaise. Serve with cold sliced meats or chicken.

Töltött Paprika (Stuffed Bell Peppers)

Serves 8

4 large red bell peppers

1 lb. ground beef

1 onion, finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 Tbs. chopped parsley

3/4 cup cooked rice

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. pepper

4 Tbs. olive oil

sweet Hungarian paprika for

garnish

Cut the peppers in half lengthwise. Remove the seeds and the cores. In a large bowl, combine the meat, onion, garlic, parsley, rice, salt and pepper and mix well.

Stuff the peppers generously with the meat mixture. Lightly oil the bottom of a baking dish with some of the olive oil, and place the stuffed peppers in it. Drizzle the olive oil over the peppers. Bake in a preheated 400-degree oven until the peppers are tender and the surface of the stuffing is nicely browned, about 45 minutes. Sprinkle with the paprika and serve warm.

Rebecca Ets-Hokin is a certified culinary professional. Visit her Web site at www.GoRebecca.com. She can be reached at [email protected]