Monday, November 1, 2010

Week #4: Hungary

I've been promised a Hungary/Hungry joke every day this week, so I better make this count.

My memories of Hungary are from a trip we took when I was a kid.  It was 12 hours of driving each way and I think that was "Daddyvision"'s greatest success.  (Daddyvision was a small, maybe 7" TV (which was probably 18 inches deep, mind you) rigged up with a VCR between the front seats of The Van (or, The Great Pumpkin as we later called it).  The Boy and I had head phones to hear, and Mom & Dad made us 6-hour tapes of Disney movies, recorded back to back to back so we only ran out of stuff to watch every few hours.  Kids these days are so spoiled with their "back of the headrest" screens and DVD playing players.  Oy.)

Gastronomically, what I remember most is this meat platter that my parents ordered.  I don't think *they* even knew exactly what was on it, but they sure knew which one was liver.  They had us try a little bit of everything, and neglected to tell us what were the icky bits until after we'd taken at least a bite.  Turns out, liver is gross even if you don't know what it is first.  I remember telling them it tasted/felt like rotted peanut butter.  Blech. If you like it though, more power to you...suffice it to say, we won't be revisiting that this week though. 

So, mystery meat platters aside, what do we know about Hungarian cuisine?
The Hungarian cuisine is a prominent feature of the Hungarian culture, just like the art of hospitality. Traditional dishes such as the world famous Goulash (gulyás stew or gulyás soup) feature prominently. Dishes are often flavoured with paprika (ground red peppers), a Hungarian innovation.[90] Thick, heavy Hungarian sour cream called tejföl is often used to soften the dishes flavour. The famous Hungarian hot river fish soup called Fisherman's soup or halászlé is usually a rich mixture of several kinds of poached fish. Other dishes are Chicken Paprikash, Foie gras made of goose liver, pörkölt stew, vadas, (game stew with vegetable gravy and dumplings), trout with almonds and salty and sweet dumplings, like túrós csusza, (dumplings with fresh quark cheese and thick sour cream). Desserts include the iconic Dobos Cake, Strudels (rétes), filled with apple, cherry, poppy seed or cheese, Gundel pancake, plum dumplings (szilvás gombóc), somlói dumplings, dessert soups like chilled Sour cherry soup and sweet chestnut puree, gesztenyepüré (cooked chestnuts mashed with sugar and rum and split into crumbs, topped with whipped cream). Perec and kifli are widely popular pastries.
The csárda is the most distinctive type of Hungarian inn, an old-style tavern offering traditional cuisine and beverages. Borozó usually denotes a cozy old-fashioned wine tavern, pince is a beer or wine cellar and a söröző is a pub offering draught beer and sometimes meals. The bisztró is an inexpensive restaurant often with self-service. The büfé is the cheapest place, although one may have to eat standing at a counter. Pastries, cakes and coffee are served at the confectionery called cukrászda, while an eszpresszó is a cafeteria.

I won't lie, I've never really thought of Hungarian cuisine as being so innovative or prominent, but they literally invented paprika!  Huh! And all those different styles of restaurants...I sort of wish I could hope on a plane and go try a few out this week!

It looks, though, like the main ingredients of the week are going to be sour cream, paprika, and cabbage.

So here's what I'm going to try this week: 

The daring one (I've never wrapped anything in cabbage before...frightening):
The "sounds...odd...I'll give it a try anyway" one:
The "because it wouldn't be Hungarian week without goulash" one:
The "come on, the recipe is called "smoked butt in brown sugar, how can you not giggle" one:  Looks like I'm braving the butcher shop this week.
The "I need to start experimenting with dessert recipes" one:
The "I need more dumplings in my life" one:

I thought about making Fisherman's soup, but it looks like the only way to make it is with about 12 lbs of fish...and I'm not that crazy about fish.  Nick doesn't like it much either.  If I had more adventurous friends, maybe I'd invite some people over for a soup night, but I'm not sure I can convince enough people to come eat fish soup.

I also found this index, which seems to have many of what were probably the mystery meats on that platter so many years ago.  I won't lie, there are limits to my courage.  There will be no jellied pigs feet or kidney stew for me.  If you decide to try it, let me know how it goes.

Incidentally, if you're worried about joining this challenge because it's not strictly South Beach compliant, I've got some comments.  I'm finding that breaking out of my day to day eating habits, even just for one meal a day, has but the emphasis back on eating food for the sake of enjoyment, not for the sake of gluttony.  That's not to say I don't enjoy me some Taco Bell every now and then, but the fact is, I have felt more healthy and "cleaner" the past few weeks since I've put the focus back on knowing what exactly I'm eating.  When I'm thinking about how to present the dish and how to make it look good for pictures, I'm thinking less about how hungry I am and how much I can shovel into my system before my system catches up with me.

So I guess my point is, dieting should be about lifestyle, not about food.  If you want to feel better, start by knowing exactly what's going into your food...buying meal replacement bars doesn't allow that luxury.  Knowing what's going into your body by way of knowing what's going into your food forces you to develop a healthier relationship with your food, know each other, so it's not a constant battle of wits.  (Seriously, how often do you find yourself hiding veggie servings under "tastier" but less healthy foods?) When you know your food from the ground up, you can trust that it's working just as hard to make you feel good as you did to make it taste good. 

I'll get off my soapbox now, but just keep that in mind.  There are a million reasons not to cook at home, and a million more not to cook foreign foods...but there are even more reasons TO cook foreign foods at home!  Try just one recipe with me this week and see if you don't feel like you've accomplished something extraordinary!  Even small victories are still victories!

Think globally, cook locally!

Also, this week I'm starting to participate in Organizing Junkie's Menu Plan Monday.  For more ideas of weekly menus, inspiration, and all that, hop on over there!.

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