Don’t be fooled: Hungary’s St. Stephen’s Day on August 20 is not the winter holiday celebrated (and caroled about) as “The Feast of Steven.” Instead, it commemorates King Stephen, who founded Hungary and was canonized in 1083 by Pope Gregory VII. Unlike some holidays, where pomp or religion come first and food is secondary, eating takes pride of place in St. Stephen’s Day celebrations. New bread is blessed, a patriotic “national cake” is chosen in a country-wide bake-off, and visitors can stroll down the “Street of Hungarian Flavors” in the capital, Budapest. Last year’s cake was a colorful confection made from almonds, raspberries and white chocolate ganache that echoed the Hungarian flag, while also making use of the green pumpkin seed oil that’s a famed local product. In a distinctly modern twist, there’s also a sugar-free cake so no one is excluded from the fun.
For this year’s St. Stephen’s Day, we’ve imagined our own street, or perhaps short alley, of Hungarian tastes, with three recipes to suit summer’s sultry temperatures: no hot ovens or delicate cake layers here! Two of the dishes make liberal use of Hungary’s national spice, paprika, while the third celebrates the clean fruit flavors for which Hungarian cuisine is also known.
Grill-Roasted Paprika Chicken
Adapted from The New York Times
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
2 tablespoons smoked paprika
3 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon lemon juice
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced or grated
2 tablespoons softened butter
8 bone-in chicken thighs (about 3½ pounds)
freshly ground black pepper to taste
Lime or lemon wedges
Mint leaves for garnish
Mix together paprikas, honey, lemon juice, butter and garlic in a medium bowl.
Heat half of either a charcoal or gas grill.
On a baking sheet, salt and pepper the chicken, then use fingers to coat each thigh with the spice paste. Place on the cooler half of the grill and cover, cooking for 15 minutes. Turn and cook 10-15 minutes more (longer for larger pieces), or until chicken is cooked through.
Serve hot or at room temperature sprinkled with mint leaves and with lime or lemon wedges to squeeze over chicken.
Hungarian Lentil Goulash
Traditional goulash is a heavy meat stew, redolent of paprika and rich with sour cream. Here’s a delicious vegetarian variation that is remarkably flavorful considering how easy and relatively speedy it is to make–even on a weeknight. Top with olive-oil fried eggs and serve with a salad and some crusty bread for a nutritious and satisfying dinner.
1 1-pound bag lentils (green or brown, not French)
1 ½ tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons sweet Hungarian paprika
3 bay leaves
1 cup whole-fat sour cream
3 ½ tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons milk
½ teaspoon salt, or as needed
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
2 tablespoons brown mustard, or as needed
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, or as needed
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Place a large (5- to 6-quart) saucepan over medium-low heat, and add oil and onion. Sauté until tender but not brown. Add garlic and paprika, and sauté until garlic is fragrant, 1 minute more. Add lentils, 8 cups water and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, then cover, reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until lentils are tender, about 35 minutes.
While lentils are cooking, stir together sour cream, flour and milk. Add to lentils and simmer 2 to 3 minutes. Add salt, brown sugar, mustard and lemon juice, adjusting amounts if necessary for a sweet and sour flavor. Remove and discard bay leaves.
Optional: In a small nonstick pan, heat a tbsp or two of olive oil over medium high heat. When oil is not, slip several eggs carefully into pan (2 or 4, depending on pan size) and fry until crisp at edges. Serve over hot lentils.
Cold Cherry Soup
Many of the most famous Hungarian dishes are better suited for a cold winter’s day than midsummer, but this tangy, cold soup is beautifully suited as either a quick shot before a meal, or a virtuous, summer-y dessert. You can make it with the traditional sour cream but we always jump at the chance to use thick and tangy Greek yogurt. If you want some extra richness, you can always serve it with a dollop of sour cream or crème fraiche. A good cherry pitter, by the way, makes our short but definitive list of oddly specialized kitchen gadgets that are worth every penny.
1 ¾ lbs. fresh bing cherries, stemmed and pitted, or 1 ½ lbs. frozen bing cherries
2 ¾ cups sour cherry juice
Grated zest of ½ lemon, preferably organic
1 cinnamon stick
½ tsp salt
1 cup Greek yogurt
Optional : crème fraiche or sour cream for serving
In a 4-quart saucepan, bring all ingredients except yogurt to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for 5-7 minutes or until cherries are tender. In a medium bowl, slowly whisk 1 cup of hot cherry liquid with yogurt until smooth, then mix back into the pot. Pour into a bowl and chill well before serving.
If you prefer a smooth soup, after mixture is cooled to room temperature, purée until smooth in a blender, then chill.