I have an extremely kind friend, who regularly visits her family in Hungary and who brings me local delicacies, such as sausages, hot sauces and… peppers. Yes, genuine raw Hungarian peppers! (If you have never had the pleasure to taste or at least to smell them, they have a unique, unequalled, enticing aroma you will never experience if the same variety is grown elsewhere). A couple of days ago my friend has made me a huge surprise bringing a huge bag of hot and sweet Hungarian peppers, given by her mum, who is not only an excellent cook, but also a particularly generous and kind person. Thank you again A. and thank you so much Mrs. J.!
When I opened the bag, the typical, extraordinary aroma filled the whole kitchen. The hot peppers were pickled (see here my Pickled Hot Peppers recipe) and placed in a “VIP” sector of my pantry. As for the sweet ones, I have planned several dishes, the first of which was töltött paprika (stuffed pepper). I thought that the generous present I was offered was not only an occasion to cook Hungarian, but also to post once more the recipe I wrote about a long time ago, so do not be surprised to find it in my old posts.
Töltött paprika (stuffed pepper) is a very common dish prepared with long sweet peppers, usually very light yellow (usually the “cecei” variety) and often called ”TV paprika” (short for “tölteni való paprika”, meaning “peppers for stuffing”), the variety I was offered. (Their name shouldn’t be mixed up with a Hungarian food channel called tvpaprika where of course “tv” means… tv.) Stuffed peppers are usually served with potatoes, but I find it somehow too rich for hot summer days, so I simply like to have it with good baguette. If prepared with lean pork and if the sauce thickening stage is skipped, töltött paprika is a healthy, light dish, contrary to the stereotypical image of the Hungarian cuisine. Since I have never tasted stuffed peppers made by a Hungarian cook, I’ll not even try to pretend mine are similar to THE original. All I can say is the smell is amazing, the taste crowd pleasing, the recipe simple and easy; in short the quintessence of good home food.
My main modifications of one of the basic recipes, taken from Szakàcskönyv by Ilona Horvàth (the classic “every housewife” cookbook I bought during my trip to Hungary), are numerous. First of all I always have it with sour cream or milk and my Hungarian friend loved it this way too, but I have been told the majority of Hungarians don’t add it (thank you, K.). Browsing through Hungarian food websites I found celery or celeriac addition excellent idea, I also added dried sweet paprika to the stuffing and omitted the egg in it, as well as the roux (mixture of flour and butter or other fat, fried a bit and then added at the end of cooking to thicken the sauce), since I skip it in my sauces whenever I can. The sauce is light, healthy (cooked tomatoes or tomato sauce are supposed to have more lycopene than raw tomatoes) and the whole dish irresistible.
TIP: Of course if you don’t find the Hungarian pepper variety, this recipe can be prepared with any sweet, long peppers.
Ingredients (serves 4):
8-10 long yellow sweet peppers (or other long peppers)
300 g ground lean pork
1 litre tomato sauce or canned tomatoes
5 branches celery or celeriac leaves/ 1 celery stalk/half of a small celeriac cut into pieces
(1 tablespoon dried sweet Hungarian or Spanish pepper)
1 teaspoon sugar
(sour cream or sour milk)
Put the tomato sauce or tomatoes, the celery stalk or branches, 1 halved onion and the sugar into a big pan (big enough to contain all the peppers). Bring it to boil, lower the heat and simmer for a couple of minutes. (You may add the tomato paste if you think the sauce is bland).
In the meantime chop the remaining onion finely, mix with the meat, the rice and the dried pepper. Add some salt and pepper to taste.
Cut off the pepper stems (do not throw away the pepper flesh you had to cut off with the stalks! I usually cut them up and put into the tomato sauce), discard the seeds. Stuff them (leaving 1/2 cm empty from the top) with meat mixture. Since the rice will swell, you have to make some space in the peppers.
Take a wooden spoon handle (or your finger) and make a tunnel in the centre of every stuffed pepper.
If you have any leftover stuffing, form small meatballs and cook them together with stuffed peppers. Put the peppers and the balls delicately into the tomato sauce (it should cover them) and add some water if needed.
Cover it and let it simmer on a moderately low heat for at least one hour.
Check from time to time if they don’t stick to the bottom of the pan.
If you stir the sauce, do it carefully, as the peppers become very fragile.
Traditionally, in Hungary this dish is apparently served with boiled potatoes. I serve it simply with good crunchy bread.
Even though apparently it’s not a traditional way, I love this stuffed pepper served with a big dollop of sour cream/milk.