Kaszáslé

One of the oldest and now nearly forgotten soups in Hungary. It was named after the farm laborers who harvested wheat by hand using a scythe, a highly demanding physical task. The peasants would eat it during their lunch break in the summer heat under the cool shelter of a tree. It became a well-known soup across the country by the 16th century and, oddly enough, the aristocracy was as fond of it as the lower classes. There were many kaszáslé variations. Some thickened with egg yolks, others with sour cream or roux. People started adding potatoes to it when potatoes appeared in the late 18th century. But the two key features of the soup are the smoked meat pieces and the slightly sour, bright-tasting liquid, which helped preserve it for several days.

Ingredients

Yield: 6 servings; Total time: 1 hour and 30 minutes

  • 500 grams (1 ¼ pounds) smoked pork butt or ham, cut into small cubes, about 2 cm (¾-inch) long

  • 1 onion, peeled and minced

  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

  • 2 pinches of ground black pepper

  • 4 medium potatoes (600 grams; 1 ⅓ pounds), cut into 2 cm (¾ inch) chunks

  • 3 bay leaves

  • 1 bunch fresh parsley, chopped

  • 2 liters (2.1 quarts) water

  • 200 grams (¾ cup) sour cream

  • 2 tablespoons flour

  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice or white wine vinegar

  • Salt to taste

  • 3 slices of bread cut into 2 cm (¾-inch) by 2 cm (¾-inch) cubes

Directions

  • Step 1: Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius (360 Fahrenheit). Scatter the bits of bread in one layer on a baking sheet and place in the oven to crisp. They’re ready when lightly browned, about 10-15 minutes.

  • Step 2: In the meantime, fill a large pot with 2 liters (2.1 quarts) of warm water and add the cubes of smoked pork butt, onion, garlic, ground pepper, bay leaves, and cook with the lid on at a simmer until meat is soft, about 1 ½ hours. (Don’t add any salt at this stage as the smoked meat is already salty.)

  • Step 3: Add potato chunks and cook at a brisk simmer until potatoes are soft, but not mushy, about 10-15 minutes.

  • Step 4: In a medium bowl, mix together sour cream and flour. Ladle a few spoons of the hot soup from the pot into the sour cream mixture and stir to combine. 

  • Step 5: Turn off heat and add sour cream mixture to the pot. Then turn the heat back on and stir at a low simmer for 1-2 minutes. The soup will soon start to thicken. Turn off heat, add chopped parsley (reserve a bit for garnish) and lemon juice and mix well.

  • Step 6: Taste and add salt if needed. Serve soup in individual bowls with a drizzle of parsley on top and a handful of the toasted bread chunks.

Words of advice

(i) Bear in mind that all smoked meats are salty, so you’ll need little if any additional salt. In case the liquid turns out too salty, dilute it with a bit more water. (ii) It’s up to you what kind of smoked meat you go with here, but some cuts like ham or ham hock will need longer to soften than the pork butt I’ve used in this recipe.

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!