Lecsó and "Lecsó Shakshuka"
It’s mid-August, people. When and how exactly did that happen? Out here in the ‘burbs (also known as my parent’s house north of NYC), my mom is reaping the benefits of her vegetable garden. Kale is ready to be cut, eggplants shine in the summer-sun, basil plants are knee-high, and, somehow, there is a new zucchini on the vine each time you blink. Wasn’t it just a moment ago that the farmers’ market was brimming with spring’s sugar snap peas, asparagus, and strawberries? This morning, it was overflowing with the high-summer harvest: beans, corn, summer-squash, peppers of all colors and kinds, and tomatoes, tomatoes, and more tomatoes.
To make good use of these sun-loving veggies, I could be cooking any number of recipes from Italy or Provence, Greece, and any other place in the Mediterranean region, where the weather is hot, and these night shades are abundant and featured prominently in the cooking of the region. Instead, I thought I’d turn to a little known, totally underappreciated Hungarian dish called lecsó (pronounced LECH-oh). Lecsó is a thick vegetable stew generally prepared with onions, tomatoes, both sweet and hot peppers, and paprika. Sometimes super-spicy, sometimes less-so, lecsó can be served on its own, with a crusty bread and a mild, fresh cheese, alongside grilled meat, sausages, or fish, cooked (as I’ve shown below) with some eggs to make a Hungarian-style version of the Middle Eastern brunch favorite, shakshuka, used as a sauce for pasta, couscous, or rice, or even combined with a dollop of sour-cream to stuff a savory pancake. Basically, just like its cousins, French ratatouille and Italian peperonata, lecsó, is delicious, simple, and the kind of versatile workhorse of a dish you definitely want in your repertoire.
My grandma kept her lecsó recipe as simple as it gets—so simple, no one ever bothered to write down her recipe. No matter. I decided to do a little experimenting with the various peppers and tomatoes I was able to pick up at the market. Below you’ll find the recipe with amounts tweaked to my taste, but it’s so simple, you’re welcome to use it as a guideline, experimenting with changing ratios and adding whatever spice or herb strikes your fancy.
3 tablespoons vegetable oil (bacon drippings may be used in place of oil)
2 1/4 lbs. peppers (I suggest a combination of red bell peppers, sweet cubanelles, and, if you’re brave, a spicy banana pepper or two), cut into finger width strips or rings
1 lb. tomatoes, cored and sliced
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 heaping tablespoon ground sweet Hungarian paprika
Salt and pepper to taste