Friday, August 21, 2015

365 True Things: 145/Hungary

Yesterday, my friend Miranda told me about all the venison she just picked up from her butcher (she's a hunter, and this season she felled a nice big buck). As she got to the end of the list of cuts and mentioned "stew meat," I started salivating.

So today, I sought out a stew recipe. First I thought of Irish stew, but the recipe I found called for parsnips. And, well, meh on parsnips.

Yeah, yeah, I could leave them out: and/or, I'm sure they'd be nicely put in their place by the carrots and turnips. But no: no parsnips.

I searched the index again and found Hungarian goulash. Which the author says is actually more like Hungarian paprikash—thicker than the Hungarians would make a goulash, which for them means paprika-spiced beef soup, plain and simple; they also don't include noodles, which of course Hungarian goulash has to have.

So now simmering on my stovetop is a nice mixture of tomatoes, onions, a little bit of bacon; pork tenderloin, smothered in paprika with a touch of caraway seeds, is waiting to be added. And instead of Hungarian yellow wax peppers—which the Safeway did not have (to my disbelief)—I'm using Hatch chilis.

Mind you, when I follow a recipe, I follow a recipe. And when a recipe calls for some specific ingredient, I typically dash all over town to find it. However, Hatch chilis! They're famously wonderful. For that crucial moment as I stood fighting off disappointment over finding no Hungarian yellow wax peppers, I was able to overcome my rigid standards and embrace a new take on goulash: New Mexican goulash! It'll be fine.

Anyway, I titled this Hungary because making goulash always reminds me of Hungary. I was in Hungary once. It was 1969; I was fourteen. Hungary was still Communist controlled. My father, mother, and I drove from Munich, where we were living for a few months, to Budapest, to meet a chemist colleague of my dad's. All I remember about Budapest—which I understand from a friend who was there recently is a really beautiful pair of cities—is a fancy restaurant up on a hill. Maybe I ate goulash. I don't remember. There were violins—schmaltzy gypsy violins. That I remember.

And the next day (maybe), our host drove us to his country cottage on Lake Balaton. All of a sudden as we neared the lake, traffic slowed to a crawl. We inched along, inched along, until eventually we could see the problem: a man had been hit by a car. He lay bloody in the road while they waited for an ambulance. A policeman was waving cars to the right, diverting traffic on a roundabout detour. As our host drew even with the police officer, he actually started insisting that he needed to drive straight through because he had Americans in the car. (I did not understand any of the words except "Americans," but the tone of his tirade was very clear.)

I had never been more ashamed of being American. The poor man might have been dying, for goodness' sake. There was a lot of blood.

I remember nothing else about Hungary except shimmering heat over the lake—because eventually, of course, we did reach the country cottage. And got to sit in the front yard regarding the beautiful lake.

Part of me would like to go back and see Budapest. Maybe eat some goulash (as in soup) or paprikash (stew), and whatever other delectable dishes the country specializes in. Drink some Tokaj wine. Part of me, though, is afraid I'll see another dying man and be reminded that I don't really belong there. 

My habit has been to post the recipe I'm working on, but this time I'm going to make do with a link: but it's a link to the very recipe I'm using. Except for the Hatch chilis, of course.

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