Húsleves is a signature of Sunday family meals across Hungary, usually served from a large soup tureen for the whole table, similar to a pot-au-feu. The steaming, fragrant broth packs bits of tender beef, root vegetables, and noodles. It's often paired with bone marrow and toast on the side.
Yield: 6-7 servings; Total time: 4 hours
750 grams (1 ⅔ pounds) unsliced beef shank or top, eye or bottom round
350 grams (¾ pound) beef bones, washed
Optional: 6 pieces of 5 cm (2 inches) thick beef marrow bones, both ends nicely showing the marrow
2 teaspoons salt (more to taste)
12 black peppercorns
½ teaspoon caraway seeds
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1 fresh ginger root (5 cm-long; 2-inches), peeled
1 bay leaf
2 parsnips, peeled and cut into chunks (for the broth, to be discarded later)
2 parsnips, peeled and julienned (for the soup)
2 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks (for the broth, to be discarded later)
2 large carrots, peeled and julienned (for the soup)
Wedge or a few outer leaves of savoy cabbage
1 bunch fresh parsley, tied together (put aside a few leaves to garnish the soup at the end)
1 onion, cut in half (don’t peel)
1 kohlrabi, peeled and quartered
½ celery root, peeled and halved
1 medium potato, peeled
1 teaspoon tomato purée
1 Hungarian wax pepper or yellow bell pepper, cored, seeded
75 grams (2 ⅔ ounces) noodles, ideally snail-shaped (csigatészta) or angel-hair pasta
4 liters (4.2 quarts) cold water
Slices of toasted bread (for the bone marrow)
Step 1: Place the cleaned meat and bones in a large stockpot filled with 4 liters (4.2 quarts) cold water. Bring water to a boil while using a ladle to remove impurities that gather on the surface. Then reduce heat to a gentle simmer and occasionally skim off any scum that still appears on top. Cook for 1 hour.
Step 2: Add bone marrows (if any), kohlrabi, 2 parsnips, 2 carrots, celery root, savoy cabbage, onion, leek, tomato, tomato puree, wax pepper, potato, parsley, ginger, garlic cloves, bay leaf, peppercorns, caraway seeds, and season with salt. Cook uncovered until meat is very tender, about 2 ½ hours (so beef and bones should cook for a total of about 3 ½ hours).
Step 3: Using a slotted spoon, remove from the liquid all vegetables and the bones and discard (they’ve released their flavor). Also remove the meat and the bone marrows and put aside. Strain the liquid through a fine sieve or cheesecloth into a pot.
Step 4: Add the julienned raw carrots and parsnips into the strained liquid. Bring it to a brisk simmer and cook until carrots are fork-tender, about 25 minutes. 10 minutes before the carrots are ready, also add the noodles. In the meantime, cut the beef into 2 ½ cm (1-inch) cubes.
Step 5: Taste soup and add more salt as needed. Serve in soup bowls while still hot, with each plate containing a combination of beef, carrots, parsnips, and noodles. Drizzle the top with parsley. Serve the bone marrows on the side with toasted bread (people can spread the marrows on the toast for themselves).
Words of advice
(i) To achieve an impressively dark-hued soup, some people add a bit of tomato purée (as indicated above) or soy sauce to it. Soy sauce is by no means a traditional approach, but it imparts a nice flavor boost. (ii) Feel free not to discard the spent vegetables and serve whichever you see fit.
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I created these recipes with the help of nearly a dozen historical Hungarian cookbooks, adjusting ingredients, cooking times, and methods to reflect my own preferences and tastes of the current day. Do you have any feedback? Please let me know!