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Posted on Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 8 a.m.

Hungarian pepper stew - a dish that lends itself to many delicious variations

By Mary Bilyeu


Mary Bilyeu | Contributor

In anticipation of the class I'll be attending at Zingerman's Bakehouse on Saturday — "A Taste of Hungary with Amy and Frank" — in which I'll be learning all about the country's little-known cuisine (and tasting lots of treats!), I prepared a dish that Zingerman's co-founder Ari Weinzweig described enticingly in the May-June issue of Zing-Dish, the company newsletter.

Lecsó [LEH-tchoh] is a pepper and onion stew that showcases vegetables, which are integral to Hungarian cooking.  As Ari writes, famed restaurateur, cookbook author, and expert on Hungarian cuisine, George Lang, stated that "In Hungary, vegetables are not just 'cooked,' they are 'prepared' ....  (And lecsó is) one of the most ingeniously used vegetable dishes in the Hungarian kitchen."

Ari discusses different versions of this classic that he tasted while travelling in Hungary, stating that there are variations in the degree of spice and heat used, and that some people stir an egg into the stew once it's finished.  He continues by telling that the dish doesn't necessarily require bacon, "but of course ... then it won't have any bacon in it."  And as a girl who giddily swooned over swine at Baconfest Michigan, I would clearly vote in favor of bacon!

A description of the procedure for making lecsó is given, but no specific recipe; so I concocted my own version while following the general directions.  The dish turned out to be fragrant, colorful, easy to make, and fabulously flavorful; prepare it with gorgeous summer vegetables, and make it your own.  With or without the bacon, with or without egg or sour cream, with or without spicy heat, you should definitely give it a try.

Lecsó (Hungarian Pepper Stew)

4 strips bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 medium onion, halved, cut into medium slices, slices separated
2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
2 red peppers, seeded, halved vertically, cut into 1/2-inch strips
1 yellow pepper, seeded, halved vertically, cut into 1/2-inch strips
1 long yellow Hungarian pepper, seeded, quartered, cut into 1/2-inch strips
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon smoked paprika

sour cream, for serving

In a large saucepan, cook the bacon over medium-low heat for 5 minutes until browning but not crisp.  Add onion and half of the salt; cook on low for 5 minutes, until the onion is softened.

Add the peppers and the rest of the salt; cover and cook for 15 minutes.

Add the tomatoes, red pepper flakes, and both varieties of paprika; cover and cook for 15 more minutes.

Add a splash of water if the vegetables have no liquid; this dish should "have the texture of a vegetable stew," according to Ari.

Serves 2 generously as a stew.  Serves 4 as an entree over rice, noodles, or polenta.  Serves 6-8 as a side dish.

Serve with sour cream, which can be stirred into the lecsó if desired.

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Mary Bilyeu writes about her adventures in the kitchen - making dinner, celebrating holidays, entering cooking contests ... whatever strikes her fancy. She is also on a mission to find great deals for her Frugal Floozie Friday posts, seeking fabulous food at restaurants on the limited budget of only $5 per person. Feel free to email her with questions or comments or suggestions:

You should visit Mary's blog — Food Floozie — on which she enthuses and effuses over all things food-related.  And be sure to look for her monthly articles about holiday foods and traditions in the Washtenaw Jewish News.

The phrase "You Should Only Be Happy" (written in Hebrew on the stone pictured in this post) comes from Deuteronomy 16:15 and is a wish for all her readers - when you come to visit here, may you always be happy.