Rhapsodic Hungarian recipes

BUDAPEST (JTA) — Antonia Szenthe likes to read Jewish cookbooks such as "Spicy Eszter" Bodrogi’s "Spice and Soul: Jewish Cooking Here and Now" and adapt the recipes to her family’s taste. She also enjoys experimenting to adapt pork-laden traditional Hungarian recipes to kosher style.

"Instead of bacon or smoked pork, I’ll use smoked goose leg," she says.

One of Szenthe’s favorite main dishes is baked fish and spinach. She varies the quantities to taste.

BAKED FISH AND SPINACH
Ingredients:
Fillets of cod, or some other saltwater fish (enough for 4 people)
Just over 1 pound frozen spinach (or better, fresh spinach leaves)
About 10 ounces fresh mushrooms
2 cloves of garlic
About 1 1/2 tablespoons) butter for the sauce, plus butter to saute the mushrooms
1 cup and a bit milk — or cream, if you do not mind the calories
2 tablespoons flour
Half a lemon
Grated Parmesan cheese
Grated nutmeg
Vegetable stock cube or powder, without MSG
Freshly ground pepper (preferably 4 colored peppercorns)

Preparation:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (or "moderate"). Arrange the fish fillets in an oven-proof, buttered pan, grind pepper and squeeze half a lemon on them. Thaw the spinach, or wash the fresh spinach and simmer it on a slow flame until soft. Wash and chop the mushrooms, saute them on high flame in butter.

Prepare the sauce: Melt the butter, mix it with the flour and add the cold milk. Season with plenty of ground pepper, vegetable stock or soup powder, ground nutmeg and mashed garlic. Cook it on slow flame, constantly stirring with a whisk, until it thickens. The sauce should be overly seasoned, as the spinach, the mushrooms and the fish absorb a lot of flavor.

Layer the spinach and the mushrooms on the fish fillets, pour on the sauce and grate plenty of Parmesan cheese on the top.

Place the pan in the oven and bake for about 20 minutes, until the cheese on top becomes a nice golden brown.

SOLET
Everyone has his or her own solet (cholent) recipe, and family recipes are passed down from generation to generation. Some folks like dark beans, some like white beans and others, like me, prefer to mix them. All agree that for a good solet you need both smoked and regular meat.

Classic solet is baked for hours in an oven. Traditionally it was put in a sealed oven Friday before Shabbat fell to be ready to eat on Saturday. But you can also prepare it on top of the stove.

For Facebook users, there is a solet interest group, which includes a recipe that uses four types of meat — including ham! See www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=132617699568&v=info.

Andras Singer serves six types of solet at his Fulemule restaurant: solet served with eggs, with goose leg, with smoked meat and eggs, with goose liver and onion, with mixed meats and a non-traditional-sounding Mexican solet with chili.

He provided this basic recipe, which of course can be varied to suit individual taste.

Ingredients:
About 2 cups dried beans (Singer prefers dark beans)
1 large onion, chopped
4 tablespoons goose, duck or chicken fat (schmaltz is recommended, but you can substitute cooking oil if you wish a lighter taste)

Meat:
Singer’s basic recipe calls for 1 1/2 pounds smoked beef brisket plus poultry legs — 1 or 2 turkey legs, or 2 goose or duck
legs. But you can vary this to taste. Just make sure that you use at least 2 types of meat, and that one of them is smoked — in Hungary it is easy to get smoked turkey or goose legs.

6 eggs in their shells, washed (Note: make sure that the eggs are fresh, as one bad egg could ruin the dish. Some people recommend cooking the eggs separately; others leave them out entirely.)
1 cup pearl barley, washed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic, or to taste
About 2 teaspoons powdered mild Hungarian paprika (or to taste)

Preparation:
Rinse the beans and soak them overnight. Preheat the oven to 275. While the oven is heating, saute the onions in 2 tablespoons of the fat until they become soft, using a very large flameproof baking dish, casserole or oven-proof pot. Stir about half of the drained beans into the onions. Add the meat, the eggs in their shell (see note above) and the barley. Cover with the remaining half of beans. Add salt, pepper, garlic and paprika, to taste, plus the remaining 2 tablespoons of fat or oil. Cover everything with water.

Cover the casserole tightly, place in the oven, and cook for 6 to 7 hours until the beans are very tender. (Check the solet after 4 or 5 hours and, if needed, add hot water.) When the solet is done, turn off the heat, but leave the solet in the cooling oven for another 2 or 3 hours. Adjust the seasonings to taste.

To serve, shell the eggs and quarter them. (Some people prefer to leave them whole or slice them.) Slice the brisket and remove the poultry meat from the bones. (Some people prefer to leave the poultry legs intact.)

SPICY ESZTER

"Spicy Eszter" Bodrogi is an influential Jewish food writer whose cookbook "Spice and Soul: Jewish Cooking Here and Now" and blog www.fuszereslelek.hu/ have had a powerful impact on the Jewish culinary lifestyle of today’s younger generation of Jews in Hungary.

Her recipes, all kosher or kosher style, center on fresh ingredients and are elegant and often simple to prepare. Both her blog and her book also provide recipes for traditional foods and holiday fare, such as hamentaschen and matzah balls. Hungarian speakers will find a treasure trove of gastronomic delight. Unfortunately, neither the blog nor the book is (yet) translated into English.

Bodrogi’s Web site has a video of her preparing a very simple version of solet — with only one type of meat, turkey leg, and no eggs. Even though it is in Hungarian, it is easy to follow: www.fuszereslelek.hu/2008/07/solet-video.html.

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