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Hungarian Paprika: The Jewish Connection

January 16, 2013 By:
Linda Morel, JE Feature
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Paprika is made from dried bell peppers or chili peppers, or a mixture of the two, which are ground into a fine powder. While there are at least six kinds of Hungarian paprika, ranging from sweet to hot, they are generally made from spicier varieties than Spanish paprika and, therefore, deliver more heat.

While paprika has become synonymous with Hungarian cuisine, this assertive spice with a fiery hew is a relative newcomer compared to Jewish history in Hungary. While Jews have lived in Hungary since the Roman Empire, paprika didn’t arrive until the Turks introduced these peppery powders to the Balkans during the Ottoman occupation, which began in the 16th century. But it is unclear how paprika spread to Hungary.
According to Gil Mark, author of the Encyclopedia of Jewish Food, paprika traveled north either with Bulgarians fleeing the Turks or Croatian spice merchants, many of whom were Sephardic Jews.
Once paprika arrived, it became wildly popular. Goulash, which exudes this peppery spice, was quickly crowned Hungary’s favorite dish. Jews adopted paprika as eagerly as their countrymen, finding ways to enhance the color and taste of soups and stews. They rubbed paprika onto meat and sauteed many savory dishes in paprika and goose fat.
From a culinary point of view, the Jews of Hungary were in an enviable position, because many gourmets consider the cuisine of Hungary to be the most delicious among Central European countries. 
Today, about 100,000 Jews live in Hungary. No kitchen is complete without at least two types of paprika — one for piquant but mild dishes and another for more flaming delicacies.
Steamed Asparagus Salad
1⁄8 cup white vinegar
1 tsp. lite soy sauce
1 tsp. sesame oil
1⁄8 tsp. paprika
1⁄8 tsp. garlic powder
1 and 1⁄2 tsps. of sugar
1⁄3 cup chopped walnuts
1 lb. asparagus
kosher salt to taste
Make the dressing by placing the first 6 ingredients (vinegar through sugar) in a small mixing bowl and whisk until combined. Reserve.
Place walnuts on the tray of a toaster oven and bake at 350˚ until just fragrant, about 1 to 2 minutes. Watch walnuts carefully so they don’t burn. Reserve.
Break off the ends of the asparagus. Rinse under cold water. Fill a steamer, preferably an asparagus steamer, with one inch of water.
Place the asparagus inside and steam until slightly tender and still green, about 5 minutes.
Move the asparagus to a platter. Drizzle the dressing over the asparagus. Sprinkle with salt. Spread the toasted walnuts over the top.
Serve immediately because over time the vinegar robs the asparagus of its brightness. Asparagus cools quickly so this is a room temperature salad.
Serves 4.
Hungarian Turkey Goulash
2 beef bouillon cubes
2 Tbsps. vegetable oil
1 large yellow onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
kosher salt to taste
2 Tbsps. paprika
2 Italian plum tomatoes, diced
2 celery stalks, diced fine
2 lbs. ground turkey
1 Tbsp. lite soy sauce
1 can (6 oz.) tomato paste
1 lb. box of wide noodles
Boil 11⁄2 cups of water and dissolve the bouillon cubes in the water. Reserve.
Heat the oil on a medium flame in a large pot. Add the onion and garlic and stir. Sprinkle in the salt and paprika. Add the tomatoes and celery and saute until wilted and the tomatoes give off some sauce.
Crumble the turkey and add it to the pot in chunks. With a long-handled spoon, continue to break up the turkey, turning until it cooks through.
Add the dissolved bouillon cubes, water and all, the soy sauce and tomato paste. Stir until combined. Cover the pot and simmer for 45 minutes, or until sauce thickens.
While the goulash simmers, prepare noodles according to package directions. When ready, drain noodles and place on a platter.
Spoon the goulash onto the center of the noodles and serve immediately.
Serves 4.
Hungarian Chicken Stew and Noodles
3 Tbsps. vegetable oil
1 large onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
kosher salt to taste
2 Tbsps. paprika
1 large split chicken breast
(2 pieces) about 2 to 21⁄2 lbs. in total (bones and skin in tact)
1 turnip, peeled and coarsely diced
6 carrots, peeled and coarsely diced
2 cups water
1 lb. box of wide noodles
Heat oil in a large pot on a medium flame. Saute onion and garlic in the oil until softened, about 2 minutes. Sprinkle in a little salt and the paprika and stir.
Continue to saute and stir until the paprika dissolves in the oil and the onions and garlic redden, about 2 minutes.
Place the chicken in the pot, skin side down. Saute until skin browns slightly. Turn and repeat on the other side.
Add the remaining ingredients, except the noodles. Stir to blend. Sprinkle in more salt, if desired.
Cover pot and raise the flame to medium high. Stir occasionally.
Meanwhile, start a pot of water to boil for the noodles, following the instructions on the package.
Reduce flame on the stew to low and simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 40 minutes. Remove chicken from stew and cool to warm.
Peel off the skin and discard. Dice the breasts, discarding the bones. Return pieces to the stew. Warm briefly.
Drain noodles in a colander. Serve immediately in large soup bowls. Place the noodles on the bottom.
Cover with chicken, vegetables and sauce.
Serves 4.
Quick Cheese Sandwiches
2 slices of bread
4 slices of sliced cheese or 4 oz. cream cheese
paprika for dusting
Spread 2 slices of cheese on each slice of bread, or spread cream cheese on bread slices. Sprinkle with paprika to taste. Eat immediately as open faced sandwiches.
Serves 1 to 2.

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