As with the stuffed cabbage, the origin of stuffed peppers dates back to the Ottoman era in Hungary. Since then, the dish has become a local favorite across the country. The peppers are filled with a mixture of ground pork, rice, sauteed onions, and a flavorful mixture of herbs and spices. They’re served on a bed of subtly sweet tomato sauce with a side of boiled potatoes.
Yield: 4-6 servings; Total time: 2 hours
For the tomato sauce
1 liter (4 cups) tomato purée
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 ½ cups water
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 onion, minced
4 ribs celery
1 ½ tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 pinches of ground black pepper
2 tablespoons potato starch or cornstarch (or flour) dissolved in ½ cup cold water
For the peppers
600 grams (1 ⅓ pounds) pork shoulder, finely ground
150 grams (¾ cup) long-grain rice
8 Hungarian wax peppers or 6 yellow bell peppers
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 onion, peeled, minced, and sauteed
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon Hungarian sweet paprika
2 cloves garlic, peeled and mashed to a paste
Pinch of freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of fresh or dried marjoram
For the potatoes
4 medium potatoes (about 600 grams or 1 ⅓ pound), cut into long strips
1 ½ liters (1.6 quarts) water
1 teaspoon salt
Step 1: Rinse the rice in cold running water then drain well. Add rice to a small pot and cover with 1 cup of cold salted water. With the lid on, bring water to a boil, then turn heat to very low and continue cooking for 12 minutes. Then turn off heat, remove lid, and let rice cool for 15 minutes. Rice grains should absorb all liquid and remain a bit firm, not fully cooked through.
Step 2: For the tomato sauce, heat oil in a large pot over medium-high, then add minced onion and celery ribs and sauté for about 6-8 minutes. Stir in tomato paste and cook until it’s starting to brown, a couple of minutes. Then pour tomato pureé over it. With 1 ½ cups water, rinse out the remaining tomato pureé from the cans or bottles and pour into the pot. Season the tomato sauce with sugar, salt, black pepper, and stir well. Cook sauce at a bare simmer for 15 minutes.
Step 3: In the meantime, prepare filling for the peppers. Heat oil in a pan over medium-high then add minced onion and sauté for about 6-8 minutes. Remove from heat and add onions into a mixing bowl together with the cooked rice, ground pork, eggs, garlic, salt, freshly ground pepper, paprika, and marjoram. Combine well with hands so that ingredients disperse evenly.
Step 4: Using a paring knife, cut the tops off the peppers and remove placenta and seeds (the smaller the cuts, the better the peppers will look on the plate, but the holes need to be big enough to fit a teaspoon). Using a teaspoon, fill each pepper with the ground meat mixture, leaving no cavities but also don’t overstuff them. Form a few meatballs with hands from the extra pork mixture you’re left with after stuffing all peppers. Place peppers and meatballs into the pot so that the tomato sauce almost covers them and cook at a low simmer with the lid on for 1 hour. Be sure not to stir the pot else the peppers and meatballs might come apart.
Step 5: In the meantime, cook the potatoes in a pot of 1 ½ liters (1.6 quarts) salted and simmering water for about 12 minutes. Potatoes should be soft but not mushy. Drain and put aside.
Step 6: When the stuffed peppers are ready, turn off heat. Pour the potato or cornstarch slurry into the pot, incorporating it carefully, without damaging the peppers (use the handles of the pot to stir). Bring the pot to a brisk simmer for a couple of minutes then turn off heat. The sauce will start to thicken within minutes.
Step 7: Taste tomato sauce for salt and pepper and add some if needed. Remove celery ribs. Serve the stuffed peppers in shallow bowls, blanketing them in tomato sauce and adding a few slices of potatoes to the side.
Words of advice
If the tomato sauce turns out too thick at the end, simply add a bit more tomato pureé to it.
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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!