Sunday, 22 September 2013

Lecsó Hungarian-inspired Tomato-Peppers Stew

September 2013

SmartCooks here.  Tomato season is definitely over, for me at least.  I picked them all from my little vegetable plot.  I also got some from the neighbours who were overrun by produce from a half-acre plot they planted for the first time, courtesy of one of their parents.  

It also inspired me to try a Hungarian tomato and peppers dish, called Lecsó for the first time.  Details below.  

It was a perfect weekend for something warm and cozy. It is crazy, weather-wise.  I've alternated from running the air conditioner then switching it to the furnace, all in the space of hours, and from pouring rain to sunshine (the getting off the Queensway because I can't see a thing kindof rain).  

A grumble ... Driving in Ottawa is a full-on series of obstacle courses.  Between the weather, all minor and major road construction (like the Light Rail Transport) and, to add to it, the road closures this weekend for the annual 5 km and half-marathon Army Runs... not fun. 

Himself has to navigate this hellish version of the city every day! (e.g., look at Slater Street from my office building).  Lucky for Himself he's headed for the UK to visit his daughter, Ilya who is there for a year's sabbatical at the London School of Economics. For himself, it's a first sampling of life across the ocean.  About time!  I promised him snow upon his return ... kidding ... I hope.  

Driving rain and hard driving conditions didn't deter my determination to do a rocking Saturday afternoon BodyAttack class in deepest darkest west end Kanata.  I made it to a crowded class, where the instructor commented he had been seeing me in a lot of classes these days.  Given that I can barely move from stiffness today, he must be seeing my double as I'm a weekend warrior at best in this life, much to my eternal chagrin.  

Lecho (Lecsó)

I had enough energy to take on a recipe called 'Lecho', or Lecsó, (pronounced 'LETCH-oh'). It's originally an Hungarian thick vegetable dish, featuring tomatoes, peppers, onion, lard, sugar, salt, and ground paprika as a base recipe. The onions and peppers are supposed to be sauteed in lard or bacon fat but I changed this to sunflower oil. I also omitted the sugar and used mustard instead.  Some recipes call for sausage, like Hungarian or Polish; others add tomatoes and eggs.  One recipe even suggested adding peeled eggplant,  which I will try next time.  

Lecho is considered a traditional food in Hungarian, Czeck, Slovak, and Polish cuisine.  It is also very common in Austria and Israel.   It is not well known in North America at least in circles I've ever been in but a surplus of tomatoes and the purchase of two or three types of Hungarian paprika made it the perfect dish for me.

First, the tomato sauce ...

I followed the super simple version of tomato sauce on the Smitten Kitchen website entitled "Naked tomato sauce. To play around as little as possible". 

First, I scored an 'x' in the bottom of the tomatoes as per the picture at top, then blanched and cooled them quickly to remove the skins.  

After that, I cut the tomatoes in half, scooped out the seeds over a bowl to capture the liquid and cooked the tomatoes on medium low for 30-45 minutes, adding some of the reserved juice when it got a little dry looking.

After it cooled, I froze the cooked sauce in freezer bags for the winter months and can jazz it up at that point.  The sauce (already done in my case) was the starting point for the dish. 

Lesco Ingredients:

1 lb of various peppers (yellow, green, red peppers; if, more heat is desired, mix in jalapenos or other chilies
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 red onions
3 green or yellow zucchini,   quartered
2 cups tomato sauce (or more depending on thickness of sauce)
3T Worcestershire sauce
4T Hungarian or sweet paprika 
1/3 cup Dutch or German mustard 
Pepper and Kosher salt 
Sunflower oil


Put sunflower oil in a large skillet or heavy pan to cover the bottom generously.  Add onion and cook about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add sausage (if using), garlic and peppers and cook another 5-7 minutes, until fragrant. 

Add tomato sauce, rest of ingredients and mix to combine.  Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for about 15 minutes.  Remove lid and cook another 5-10 minutes to thicken the sauce, if needed.


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