Lecsó Recipe

August 30, 2012
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Guest Post by Peter Pawinski

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Lecsó (also, letscho, letcho, or lecho, depending on the transliteration) is a dish sometimes called “Hungarian ratatouille,” consisting of a stewed mix of peppers, tomatoes, and onions. Often, it is fried in lard and/or smoked bacon fat, although vegetarian sunflower oil variations exist. It may be eaten on its own or as a side, at any time of day. For breakfast, it might be topped with a fried egg or two or scrambled along with them. For lunch or dinner, it is usually eaten on its own with bread, or supplemented with a sausage, rice, meat, noodles, etc. During the winter, canned and preserved lecsó can be used in Hungarian stews to substitute for out-of-season peppers and tomatoes.

What follows is a rich version of lecsó, a Hungarian recipe using both lard and smoked bacon fat. You do not need much of a recipe for lecsó. Rather, the important thing is to know the proportion, which should be roughly 2:1:1 by weight of peppers:tomatoes:onions.

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Ingredients

From the left: smoked Mangalica bacon, sweet Hungarian peppers, onions, tomatoes, Hungarian paprika from Kalocsa, and Mangalica lard. Mangalica is a local breed (or several breeds) of curly-haired pig raised mostly for its fat and well-marbled meat. If you complain that commercial pork is too lean these days (and it is), this is your breed. It has made inroads into the American and other foreign markets the last few years, usually under the spelling Mangalitsa. Incidentally, from my observation, it also seems to have surged in popularity  in Budapest, as well, with Mangalica being much more heavily promoted and available than it was in the late 90s/early 00s.

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Instructions

Chop the onions into dice or half slices, and fry with the lard and bacon fat (or use sunflower oil if you’re vegetarian). I used about 1/8 of the bacon pictured above, and about two teaspoons of lard. I let the bacon and lard cook first, to render the fat from the lard, and then added the onions.

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After the onions soften into translucency, I add a teaspoon of paprika (sweet, hot, or a mix can be used. I used sweet here). The amount is flexible, but I added one teaspoon for what was about a half pound or so of onions. Take the pan off the heat while you do this, so as not to burn the paprika:

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Integrate the paprika with the fat and onions, and let cook for about a minute off the heat. Afterwards, add your peppers and tomatoes. For best results, you should use a mix of peppers, in terms of color and heat level, but in my case I just used standard Hungarian sweet peppers. These are peppers that are similar to sweet versions of Hungarian wax, banana peppers, or Italian frying peppers in the States, but with rather meaty flesh — about as fleshy as a standard bell pepper, but with a milder flavor. If forced to use bells, I think yellow bells or a combination of yellow and red would work the best. Cut the peppers in strips or one-inch half rings (as I did).

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I used about half the tomatoes pictured in the ingredients photo. The tomatoes should be, ideally, peeled and chopped or sliced, but I’m a bit lazy and skipped the peeling step.

Add a teaspoon of salt, give the ingredients a good stir, add cover. Let this simmer over medium-low to medium heat until the peppers become soft (around 45 minutes or so). About halfway through the cooking time, I added some slices of lecsókolbász, a type of sausage specifically made for this dish:

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It’s actually quite a tame and “cheap” sausage by Hungarian standards (in my opinion), in ways more bologna-like than sausage-like in its texture and taste. I would say it has a similar level of smokiness and consistency to mass-market Polish sausages like Hillshire Farms. I’ve read Hungarian recipes that have said to leave the lecsókolbász to the dogs, and use a Debrecener or Gyulai sausage in its place. I’m actually fond of it in this application, so in it goes, to stew along with the lecsó:

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For the last ten minutes or so of cooking time, I remove the lid and let it reduce a little bit. Serve with crusty white bread:

 

A note on the author: Pete Pawinski was one of the first people I met in Budapest back in 2001. He has proven himself a master of many cuisines, including Polish, Mexican, Soul Food, and, of course, Hungarian. Currently, he lives in Chicago and works as a photographer. You can find his site here: http://www.peterpawinski.com

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9 Responses to Lecsó Recipe

  1. Marika Ujvari on August 31, 2012 at 2:08 pm

    I used Gypsy peppers, the sweetest tomatoes and applewood smoked slab bacon for the yummiest lecso.

    • diana on May 29, 2014 at 12:57 am

      Where can i find gypsy peppers and Hungarian parprica

  2. Peter Pawinski on August 31, 2012 at 4:33 pm

    One addendum, as Marika reminded me: This being a simple dish, the quality of each ingredient is of utmost importance. If you cannot get good quality fresh tomatoes, preferably from the garden or a farmer’s market, but instead are limited to those flavorless, waxy water-logged greenhouse tomatoes at the local grocery, please do not use those tomatoes. Canned tomatoes are absolutely acceptable and preferable unless you have access to good tomatoes. For American brands, something like Muir Glen or Red Gold or Hunt’s whole plum tomatoes would work well (in my order of preference.)

    This is one of the things I miss most about Hungary: when the late summer comes and the markets are flooded with inexpensive, flavorful tomatoes and peppers.

    • BUDAI A. Endre on April 15, 2013 at 5:04 pm

      I live in Taiwan, Republic of China. This island is full of wonderful veggies and fruits, but sometimes it is difficult to find what suits the real Magyar cuisine. My tomatoes were as hard as a rock and lacking juice. So, I used Heinz canned steamed tomatoes and a little tomato paste instead. It worked wonders. This summer, I will grow my own tomatoes in a wooden box, as there is no garden near my place, it’s a concrete jungle out there.

  3. Carolyn on September 3, 2012 at 10:32 am

    Yes, late summer might just be my favorite time at the markets in Hungary!

  4. [...] at wine tours of Hungary, I stumbled upon a recipe for a Hungarian stew called Lecsó. The original recipe I consulted is pretty simple, but I simplified it even further. I was still in Vilnius and cooked [...]

  5. [...] Its a wonderfully vibrant and comforting dish, which reminds me of Hungarian (kinda-) gypsy dish lecsó, especially with the addition of the egg and sausages. The egg pretty much cooked itself in the [...]

  6. Lecso (simplificat) - KissTheCook on November 28, 2013 at 1:44 pm

    [...] Reţeta originală are şi roşii proaspete în ea dar eu am lăsat-o pe a mea fără. După cum bine spune Peter Pawinski, pentru că Lecso se face din ingrediente puţine, trebuie neapărat ca acestea să fie cât mai de calitate. Vorbim aici de legume proaspete cumpărate din surse sigure sau crescute de voi. Nouă ne-au degerat ardeii în câmp dar am avut noroc să mai găsesc la Legume de Ţară 2 kilograme de gogoşari verzi, frumuşei şi gustoşi. [...]

  7. Terez on February 26, 2014 at 6:27 pm

    My mother makes the best Lecsό ever. She is a true Hungarian! Her recipe and measurements are in her head. It comes out the same every time she makes it. When I say I am coming over she will always says I will get the Lecsό cooking and by time I get there it is ready to eat. Jó étvágyat!

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