Lecsó and "Lecsó Shakshuka"

    
  
 
  
    
  
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      Lecsó with Eggs . 

Lecsó with Eggs

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.

Lescó:

Ingredients:

  • 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

1.  In a large saucepan over medium heat, heat the vegetable oil and add the chopped onion, stirring frequently, and cooking until the onion is translucent. 

2. When the onion is cooked, remove the pan from the heat, and stir in the paprika.

3. Add the peppers and salt, and cover. Turn the heat to low, and simmer for about 10 minutes. Then add the tomatoes, replace the cover on the pan, and simmer about 10 minutes more.

4. Adjust the seasoning, and serve as is, or with eggs (continue below).

Lecsó with Eggs:

Ingredients:

Lecsó basic recipe (above)

Eggs, 1-2 per person

For garnish (optional, and totally not traditional):

Chopped fresh herbs like parsley, basil, oregano, or cilantro

Crumbled or grated cheese like feta, fresh goat cheese, grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino, Ricotta Salata (you get the idea)…

1. If you have made the lecsó in advance, reheat it in a large saucepan over medium heat, until heated through

2. Carefully crack eggs over the lecsó, spacing them evenly over the top of the stew. Cover the pan, turn the heat to low, and cook until the yolks are just set, about 5 minutes.

3.  Serve, spooning some of the vegetables gently over the whites of the eggs.

4. Garnish with crumbled feta, herbs, or whatever you choose.