As in some other cultures, the myriad lentil seeds symbolize prosperity and hence this dish is a must-have on New Year's Day across Hungary. Sour cream, mustard, and a bay-leaves-forward spice mix concentrates the flavors of this vegetable stew, which is often topped with smoked meat.
Yield: 5-6 servings; Total time: 45 minutes
500 grams (1 pound or 2 ¼ cups) dried brown or green lentils, rinsed
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon Hungarian sweet paprika
2 pinches ground pepper
3 bay leaves
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon mustard
1 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon flour
2 tablespoons butter
Slices of crusty bread
Step 1: Heat three tablespoons oil in a large pot over medium-high, then add minced onion and sauté until translucent, about 5-6 minutes. Then add minced garlic and sauté for 1 more minute. Turn off heat, then add paprika, salt, pepper, and the bay leaves and stir.
Step 2: Add the lentils, 6 cups of water, and the tablespoon of lemon juice. Bring water to a boil, then reduce to a low simmer and cook lentils until soft, about 25-30 minutes.
Step 3: In a medium bowl, mix together sour cream and flour and pour the mixture over the lentil stew. Let it thicken into a creamy consistency at a low simmer for 1-2 minutes. Remove pot from heat, add butter and stir well.
Step 4: Taste for salt and add more if needed. Serve the lentil stew in shallow bowls topped with a choice of smoked meat, meatballs (fasírt), crisped-up sausages, goulash, or fried eggs and crusty bread on the side.
Words of advice
Many people pair the lentil stew with smoked and boiled meat, using the flavorful cooking water of the meat to prepare the lentils (be careful, though, as the broth can be very salty).
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.