Culinaria Hungary: A Celebration of Food and Tradition, written by Anikó Gergely, offers an extensive guide to the traditional dishes and culture of Hungary. In addition to the dozens of recipes, the pages are filled with photos and details surrounding the country’s people and cuisine. Many editions of this book have been produced since 1999, with the most current released on August 15th, 2015. There is also a version in German.

Chapters are divided based on region: Az Alföld (The Great Plain), Budapest and Surrounding Area, Felső-Magyarország (Northern Hungary), A Dunántúl (Transdanubia), and the Appendix.

Each chapter begins with an overview of the area and what makes it unique. Az Alföld, the heart of Hungary, is the source of most of the country’s grain and vegetables, but prior to the 19th century much of it was marshland before the rivers became better controlled. The towns of Buda, Óbuda, and Pest merged in 1873 to become the capital and holds almost a quarter of the country’s population. Felső-Magyarország is quite diverse with forests, plains, mountains, and vineyards. Cuisine in A Dunántúl is more heavily influenced by Austria compared to the rest of the country. It is also the home of the largest continental lake in Central Europe, Lake Balaton.

There are special sections throughout the book that take a closer look at some of the more popular ingredients and dishes. You will learn about how Paprika (spice and plant) became so notable, the history and differences between the various stews, Hungarian beers and wines (plus mixed drinks made by combining wine and soda water), and photo guides to sausages, local cheeses, cakes and pastries, wild mushrooms, freshwater fish, bacon, and bread.

Notes about the culture and people are also included, from farm life and meal times to how cooking methods were developed and the recipes and traditions surrounding special occasions (Easter, Christmas, Carnival, Weddings). There are also sections on Jewish, Serbian, and Transylvanian cuisine in Hungary.

Recipes range across the following categories: Accompaniments, Bread, Cold Dishes, Desserts, Cookies, Cakes, Tarts, Drinks (though only one), Egg and Farinaceous Dishes, Fish, Fruit, Game, Goulash, Meat, Organ Meat, Pasta and Noodles, Paprikasch, Pörkölt, Poultry, Salads, Soups, Stews, and Vegetables. I appreciate that the names of the dishes are provided in Hungarian and English. As a pasta lover, I was pleasantly surprised at the many types made to accompany other dishes or to be used on their own: Tarhonya (Pasta Pellets), Lebbencs (small wafer-thin pasta), Reszelt Tészta (Grated Pasta), Gyúrt Tészta (Homemade Pasta), Csipetke (Plucked Pasta), Tojásos Nokedli (Egg Dumplings), Daragaluska (Semolina Dumplings), and ravioli-like filled pastas (plum, quark, and lung). The index finishes with a list of the recipes in English and Hungarian and divided according to the type of dish, making it easy to find what you are looking for. The end of the book also has a section of tips on preparing Hungarian cuisine, such as how to thicken soups or the best ways to use paprika.

I did notice that many of the recipes are not completely precise. For the baked recipes in particular, there are no specific temperatures for the oven. The recipe will either state low, medium, or high. The cooking tips in the back of the book offers a guide on what temperatures fall in this range. Some of the recipes include cooking times, but not all. Some merely state to just simmer until done.

Photographs are provided by Christoph Büschel and Ruprecht Stempell. The photographs are one of my favorite things about the book. There are hundreds of people and food related scenes to take you on a tour of the country. Many of the recipes have accompanying photos, generally of the finished product. Step-by-step photos are also provided for some of the more difficult techniques, such as making Strudel dough and assembling Dobos-Torta.

Culinaria Hungary is a great choice for those wanting an in-depth guide into the cuisine and food-related traditions of Hungary. More experienced cooks will benefit the most due to some of the recipes not being precise with the oven temperatures and cooking times. Having a background in Hungarian/Central-Eastern European cooking is definitely helpful. Check out the rest of the books available in the Culinaria Series.

Pogácsa (po-gah-tcha) are small pastries that remind me of American biscuits or scones. They vary in size, from as small as a thimble to a couple of inches across. There are many different types, from plain to filled with cheese, various spices, and even bacon. This particular recipe is for Túrós Pogácsa- Pogácsa dough filled with Quark (curds, fresh creamed cheese).

I know Quark from living in Germany, but it is also popular throughout Central Europe. Hungary has three different types: 5 percent fat (Sovány), 15 percent (Félzsiros), and 35 percent (Zsiros). Quark was originally made in the home by leaving fresh milk in a warm place to sour, then moving to a warm oven to curdle further. It was then strained to separate the whey. It is now made with the help of lactic acid bacteria. I have been able to find it in specialty European markets and Whole Foods. You can also make your own.

To make these little pastries rise and create an addictive flaky quality, the dough is folded, then rolled many times. I lightly scored the top in a criss-cross pattern, then used a 1 3/4 inch round cookie cutter to cut out the small rounds. I lightly brushed the tops with egg yolk, then baked until golden. These are best the day they are made, particularly warm from the oven.

I also made Spenót (Creamed Spinach), Diós Metélt (Nut Pasta), and Borsos Tokány (Peppered Tokány) with Lecsó (Tomatos, Peppers, and Onions).

Spenót is a creamed spinach dish made by combined cooked, pureed spinach with breadcrumbs, milk, garlic, butter, and flour. I topped it with a fried egg, but it is also served with boiled potatoes, meatloaf, or fritters. I loved the bright green color.

In Hungary, pasta isn’t only served for a meal. It can also be prepared as a dessert. Diós Metélt is a homemade pasta dish that is tossed in melted butter and a walnut powdered sugar mixture. Chad said it reminded him of sweetened oatmeal.

Borsos Tokány (Peppered Tokány) is made by simmering strips of beef in a tomato wine sauce. I served the beef with a side of Lecsó and plain white rice. Lecsó is a combination of simmered bell peppers, tomatoes, and onions seasoned with paprika. It was the perfect accompaniment. Variations are also provided to make Lecsó with sausage, rice, pasta pellets, bacon dippings, or egg. Preserved or frozen Lecsó is often used in place of fresh tomatoes and peppers in the winter for various stews and other dishes.

Disclaimer: I received this book from H.F. Ullman Publishing in exchange for my honest review. All comments and opinions are my own.

Túrós Pogácsa (Hungarian Quark Pogácsa)
Adapted from Culinaria Hungary: A Celebration of Food and Tradition

10 1/2 ounces (300 grams) Quark (smooth cottage cheese)
2 1/2 cups (300 grams) all purpose flour
5 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/4 cups (300 grams) unsalted butter, softened
1/4 teaspoon salt
Lard or white vegetable fat for greasing
1 egg yolk for egg wash

Place a fine mesh sieve over a large bowl and cover with a cheesecloth or coffee filter. Add the quark and allow to sit for a few hours to overnight in the refrigerator to drain. Discard the liquid and place the quark in the large bowl.

In a medium bowl, sift together flour and baking powder. Mix into the quark, then add the butter and salt until a smooth dough comes together. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 390 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment or lightly grease.

On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a rectangle just under 1/4 inch thick. Starting from the short end, fold the dough over into fourths to create four layers. Turn the dough so the new long side is now facing you. Flour lightly as needed. Roll the dough again into a rectangle 1/4 inch thick. Fold across into fourths again and turn. Continue to repeat four more times.

Use a sharp knife to lightly score across the dough in 1/2 inch apart lines. Score along the other side to create a small square pattern. Use a small circular cutter, about 1 1/2-2 inches across, to cut out as many rounds as close together as you can, taking care not to twist as you press down. Transfer the rounds to prepared baking sheet, 1-2 inches apart.

Gently brush the tops of the Pogácsa with the beaten egg yolk, being careful to not let it drip down the sides. Bake in preheated oven until risen and golden brown, 20-30 minutes.

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