By the early 19th century, potatoes, which came from the Americas, spread all across Hungary. They were an economical alternative to cereal crops and hence appeared in ever more dishes — in soups, porridges, and noodles. Perhaps none became more prevalent than the potato stew, sitting in a creamy, bright-tasting sauce and usually topped with meatballs.
Yield: 4 servings; Total time: 45 minutes
For the potato stew
1 ⅓ kilos (3 pounds) potatoes, peeled and cut into 2 ½ cm (1-inch) chunks
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 teaspoon salt (more to taste)
3 pinches ground black pepper
3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon Hungarian sweet paprika
¾ cup sour cream
1 tablespoon flour
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Step 1: To prepare the potato stew, heat oil in a large pot over medium-high, then add minced onion and sauté until translucent, about 5-7 minutes. Add garlic and sauté for another minute, stirring constantly so garlic doesn't burn.
Step 2: Season with salt, pepper, paprika, and bay leaves. Then add potato chunks and 2 cups of warm water. With the lid on, bring mixture to a low simmer and steam-cook until potatoes are soft but not mushy, about 15-20 minutes.
Step 3: When the potatoes are ready, in a medium bowl, mix together sour cream and flour and pour the mixture over the potato stew. Let the sauce thicken into a creamy consistency at a low simmer for 1-2 minutes. Remove pot from heat, add butter and lemon juice and mix well.
Step 4: Taste for salt and add more if needed. Remove bay leaves and serve in shallow bowls topped with one or two meatballs.
Words of advice
If you find that you'd prefer the stew a bit thicker, mix a tablespoon of flour with a splash of water, add to the pot, and bring it to a simmer for a minute. However, note that the stew will naturally thicken as it cools down so you may just need to wait a little bit.
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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!