Hungary is not typically vaunted for its cuisine. Eastern Europe, in general, doesn’t really get the respect it deserves for interesting or tasty food. People who enjoy exploring European cuisine usually stop at Germany and get no further east. I mean, when was the last time you were interested in ordering out for Serbian?
Hungary, for those who don’t know, is bordered by seven countries including Austria (remember your history?), Ukraine, Croatia, and Romania. It also happens to be the homeland of a significant portion of my family tree. With perhaps the exception of chicken paprikas and goulash, people don’t really know too much about Hungarian food. I mean, gundel palacsinta anyone? (stuffed crepes with crushed walnuts).
So it was with glee (Rebecca can attest to this) that I purchased two smoked ham hocks and gathered the ingredients necessary for Csülkös Bableves, Hungarian bean and ham soup. This soup features the trinity of soup vegetables (onion, carrot, celery) PLUS parsnip, which added to my curiosity since I’ve only really enjoyed eating parsnips twice in my life: once pureed with garlic butter at All Star Sandwich Bar in Cambridge, MA, and once in a roasted root vegetable medley at some Thanksgiving-or-other.
According to the comments section of Saveur.com, the recipe was over-garlicked and far too thick. I halved the garlic and omitted the sour cream in favor of chicken broth. I also substituted King of the Early beans for the pintos recommended in the recipe. In a recent visit from Maine, my sister brought me a pound of these gorgeous red baking beans and I couldn’t resist. Oh yeah, and I used two ham hocks instead of one. I shouldn’t need to explain why.
The recipe also features a generous amount of Hungarian paprika, which I always have on hand. Seriously, I do. The stuff is like magic. The paprika/vegetable/smoked meat aroma that fills your house when you are simmering this soup will make your neighbors start drooling. Over the course of the three days it took to eat it all, the soup got thicker and better. While you don’t get quite as much flavor punch as you get from paprikas, this soup is worth a try.
And dogs really like ham hock leftovers.