Jókai bean soup (Jókai bableves)

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 sour cream. Words of advice: your most productive hours will not commence after polishing off a bowl of this one.

Ingredients

Yield: 6-7 servings; Total time: 2 hours

For the soup

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

  • 150 grams (⅓ pound) smoked sausage, sliced thin

  • 250 grams (1 ⅓ cup) dried beans (no need to soak overnight); most people in Hungary use pinto but any variety works

  • 2 tablespoons lard or vegetable oil

  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced thin

  • 1 parsnip, peeled and sliced thin

  • ½  celery root, peeled and halved

  • 1 tablespoon Hungarian sweet paprika

  • 2 pinches ground black pepper

  • 1 onion, minced

  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

  • 3 bay leaves

  • 1 bunch fresh parsley, chopped

  • 2 tablespoons flour

  • 2 ½ liters (2 ½ quarts) cold water

  • 125 grams (½ cup) sour cream

  • Salt to taste

For the dumplings (csipetke) — optional

  • 1 egg

  • 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour

  • Pinch of salt

Directions

  • Step 1: Heat lard or oil in a large pot over medium-high, then add minced onion and sauté until translucent, about 6-8 minutes.

  • Step 2: Add bits of smoked pork butt, rinsed dry beans, celery root, minced garlic, and season with paprika, ground pepper, and bay leaves (don't add any salt at this point). Cover with 2 ½ liters (2 ½ quarts) warm water, bring it to a boil and then immediately reduce to a gentle simmer. Let it simmer with the lid on until meat and beans are tender, about 1 ½ hours.

  • 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, add bits of carrots and parsnip and continue cooking at a low simmer for 15 minutes.

  • Step 5: In the meantime, place the slices of sausage in a pan and fry them in their own fat on medium-high until nicely crisped-up on both sides, about 8-10 minutes. Then remove the sausages with a slotted spoon and set aside in a small bowl. Keep the rendered fat in the skillet and add 2 tablespoons flour, mix together, then spoon a few ladles of the hot soup into the pan and stir it into a smooth paste with a whip, preventing any lumps from forming. Then transfer this runny roux into the soup. Stir soup gently for a minute at a low simmer; liquid will start to thicken.

  • Step 6: Add dumplings (csipetke) by pinching small, 1 cm (half-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. Add chopped parsley and mix well.

  • Step 7: Taste and add salt if needed. Take care not to oversalt the soup as the smoked meat and the sausage are already salty. Discard bay leaves then serve in soup bowls. Add crispy sausage bits and a dollop of sour cream on top.

Words of advice

Smoked meat lends the Jókai bean soup its signature flavor, but the type of meat used 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 and hence add the beans 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. Do you have any feedback? Please let me know!