Jókai bean soup (Jókai bablevels)

This wonderfully bold winter soup is named after the beloved Hungarian writer, Mór Jókai, who was very fond of it. The main components are smoked pork, crispy sausages, pinto beans, some root vegetables, and small egg noodles (csipetke). As so many soups in Hungary, it’s usually finished with a dollop of sour cream. Words of advice: your most productive hours will not commence after polishing off a bowl of this one.

Ingredients

Yield: 6-8 servings; Total time: 2 hours

For the soup

  • 400 grams (1 pound) smoked pork butt, cut into small, 1 cm (½ inch) cubes

  • 250 grams (½ pound) smoked sausage, sliced thin

  • 250 grams (1 ⅓ cup) dried beans soaked overnight in cold water; most people in Hungary use pinto but any variety works

  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced thin

  • 1 parsnip, peeled and sliced thin

  • ½  celery root, peeled and halved

  • 1 teaspoon Hungarian sweet paprika

  • 1 small onion, minced

  • 1 tablespoon flour

  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

  • 2 bay leaves

  • 1 bunch fresh parsley, chopped

  • 125 grams (½ cup) sour cream

  • 2 liters (2.1 quarts) cold water

  • Salt to taste

For the dumplings (csipetke)

  • 1 egg

  • 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour

  • Pinch of salt

Directions

  • Step 1: Rinse dry beans then soak them overnight, covering with water by 5 cm (2 inches). If overnight soaking isn’t an option, add beans to a pot of boiling water for 1.5 minutes, then turn off heat and let beans soak for an hour.

  • Step 2: Place bits of smoked pork butt in a large pot filled with 2 liters (2.1 quarts) of cold unsalted water and bring it to a simmer. Use a ladle to remove any impurities that gather on the surface. Reduce heat to a gentle simmer and add beans, celery root, and bay leaves. Let it simmer with the lid on until meat and beans are tender, about 1 hour.

  • Step 3: In the meantime, prepare the dumplings (csipetke) by mixing egg, flour, and pinch of salt. Knead them into a firm dough, then let it rest.

  • Step 4: When meat and beans are tender, remove celery roots from the liquid and discard. Then add bits of carrots and parsnip and continue cooking at a low simmer for about 10 minutes.

  • Step 5: In the meantime, place the slices of sausage in a pan and fry them in their own fat on medium until nicely crisped-up, about 10 minutes. Then remove the sausages with a slotted spoon and set aside in a small bowl. Keep the rendered fat in the skillet.

  • Step 6: Add minced onion into the hot sausage fat and sauté until translucent, about 6-8 minutes. Add flour, parsley, minced garlic, and paprika, mix together for a couple of minutes, then transfer the runny roux into the soup (if too dry, add more fat like lard, oil, or butter to it). Stir soup gently for a minute at a low simmer; liquid will start to thicken.

  • Step 7: Add dumplings (csipetke) by pinching small, 1 cm (0.4 inch) pieces off the dough with hands into the soup. Yes, it’s a little tedious. Dumplings are ready when they rise to the top, about 2-3 minutes.

  • Step 8: Taste and add salt if needed. Take care not to oversalt the soup as the smoked meat and sausage are already salty. Discard bay leaves then serve in soup bowls. Add crispy sausage bits and a dollop of sour cream on top and drizzle with remaining parsley.

Words of advice

Smoked meat lends the Jókai bean soup its signature flavor, but the type of meat is totally up to you. Many people in Hungary make it with smoked ham hock; I personally prefer pork butt (tarja) because it takes less time to cook and is very flavorful too. If you go with ham hock, bear in mind that you’ll need to cook the meat longer than an hour and hence add the beans only at a later stage so they don’t overcook.

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.