Healthful Hungarian Cooking

There’s the Goulash, the Paprikash, the strudel—traditionally cheesy, fatty, and even lardy dishes that delight the palate but fail to keep the body healthy. Yet Hungarian cooking no longer has to inflict damage. With some innovative alternatives, more healthful ingredients, and lighter recipes, Magyar cuisine can be every bit as healthy as it is tasty.

Traditional Hungarian cooking relies on heavy spices, like an abundance of Paprika, onions, garlic and pepper. The use of artery-blocking animal fats, especially pork based lard, is very common. Sauces are often rich, made with an abundance of butter, cream and sour cream. Rich pasta dishes are common, such as noodles topped with a sweet cottage cheese concoction or with a potato paste made with Paprika.

The result? A tasty and rich, although often too heavy cuisine that’s intriguing and new to many foreigners. Luckily, it’s perfectly easy to lighten up Magyar cooking. By using healthier and more forgiving fats, going easy on spices, and replacing whole dairy products with lighter ones, a hearty Hungarian meal is quickly transformed into a healthy one. Try the following recipes for a healthful Hungarian dinner:

Robust Goulash Soup

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 cup minced onions
½ teaspoon minced garlic
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon Paprika (sweet Hungarian brand, if possible)
1 or 2 large tomatoes, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
4 cups chicken stock
½ cup medium salsa
2 pounds lean beef for stew
1 pound peeled and cubed potatoes

In a medium saucepan, heat the oil. Add the onions and garlic and continue cooking on high heat until onions become glassy and garlic has browned. Take pot off the stove and add salt, pepper, Paprika, tomatoes, and bell pepper. Continue cooking for about five minutes.

Add chicken stock and salsa, then bring to a boil. Lower the heat and add the beef. Cover and simmer on low heat for 2 to 3 hours, until beef becomes extremely tender. Mix in potatoes and cook for another 25 to 35 minutes, until potatoes are soft. If necessary, add more chicken stock or water to prevent burning. Goulash should have a thick, yet soupy consistency.

Serve goulash with a side of French or Italian bread. Recipe serves four.

Potato Paprikash

1 tablespoon olive oil
½ cup minced onions
½ teaspoon salt
pinch black pepper
1 tablespoon Paprika
1 large tomato, diced
1 bay leaf
1/8 teaspoon caraway seeds
2 cups chicken stock
2 pounds of diced and peeled potatoes
½ cup light sour cream

Cook the potatoes in boiling water for 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.

In medium saucepan, heat olive oil. Add onions and garlic and cook until lightly colored. Take off heat and stir in salt, pepper, Paprika, tomato, bay leaf and caraway seeds. Add chicken stock and bring to a boil.

Add the potatoes and simmer on medium heat for 30 to 40 minutes, until potatoes are tender and stock has been reduced into a thick sauce.

Garnish individual plates with a dollop of sour cream. Recipe serves four to six.

Green Pepper Salad

3 large bell peppers
1 tablespoon white vinegar
½ teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
pinch black pepper
½ cup mayonnaise

Preheat oven to 450. On the rack, roast green peppers for 10 to 20 minutes, until skin begins to char. Remove and let rest for a few minutes. Take skin off of peppers and remove stems and seeds. Cut into thin strips.

Combine vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper in separate bowl. Add mixture to strips of pepper and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours. Drain peppers, then add mayonnaise and mix well.

This is a wonderful side dish for cold meats, or great as a lunch salad with some hot rolls. Recipe serves four.

Black Pepper Fillet of Beef

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 pounds beef fillet
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon minced garlic
½ teaspoon Paprika
½ cup chopped mushrooms
½ cup julienned onions
½ cup julienned green peppers

Heat oil in medium skillet. In the meantime, cut fillet into thin strips, about 4 inches long.

Toss meat into oil and stir them around for about 4 or 5 minutes, until meat is browned on both sides. Add salt, pepper, garlic and Paprika and mix together. Stir in mushrooms, onions and bell peppers and sauté until the mixture begins to sizzle.

Cover pan and turn heat to low. Simmer for 25 to 35 minutes, until meat is fork tender.

This dish is excellent over white rice or plain pasta. Recipe serves six.

Simple Jam Slices

1 ½ cups ground walnuts
2/3 cup sugar
2 egg whites
1 cup apricot jam

Preheat oven to 350.

In large mixing bowl, combine walnuts and sugar. In separate bowl, lightly beat egg whites, then add to walnut mixture. Stir together to form a thick paste.

Shape the paste into two rolls, each about 10 inches long and ¾ inch in diameter. Using your index finger, make a 1/2 inch deep indentation in the middle of the rolls, almost all the way down.

Place rolls on a greased, floured cookie sheet and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove from oven and fill the indentations with apricot jam.

Cut rolls into 1 inch slices and serve. Recipe makes about 25 slices.