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: 1 hour
500 grams (1 pound or 2 ¼ cups) dried brown or green lentils, rinsed
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, peeled and minced
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 teaspoon salt (more to taste)
2 teaspoons Hungarian sweet paprika
3 pinches ground black pepper
4 bay leaves
2 tablespoons lemon juice
5 ½ cups water
1 tablespoon mustard
240 grams (1 cup) sour cream
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 combine with paprika, salt, black pepper, and the bay leaves.
Step 2: Add the lentils, 5 ½ cups of water, and the lemon juice. Bring water to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook lentils until with the lid off until lentils are soft and excess water has evaporated, about 40-45 minutes.
Step 3: When lentils are ready, pour sour cream over the lentil stew. Let the stew thicken into a creamy consistency at a low simmer for 1-2 minutes. Remove pot from heat, add mustard and butter and stir well.
Step 4: Remove bay leaves. Taste for salt and pepper 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. Do you have any feedback? Please let me know!