Summer squash stew (Tökfőzelék)

One of Hungary’s most commonly eaten vegetable stews draws both avid admirers and staunch detractors. Thickened with sour cream, spiked with fresh dill, and topped with a meatball, the tökfőzelék is a reviving summer dish. Some people refrigerate the tökfőzelék and serve it chilled.

Ingredients

Yield: 4 servings; Total time: 45 minutes

For the squash stew

  • 2 kilos (4 ½ pounds) fresh summer squash, peeled, seeded and cut into matchsticks using a mandoline or a chef’s knife (or 1 ½ kilos / 3 pounds frozen and julienned summer squash)

  • 3 tablespoons butter, for the pan

  • 1 onion, minced

  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 3 pinches pepper

  • ¾ cup sour cream

  • 1 tablespoon flour

  • 2 tablespoons butter, to finish

  • 2 bunches fresh dill, finely chopped 

For the meatballs (fasírt) — makes 8-10 pieces

  • 350 grams (¾ pound) pork shoulder, finely ground

  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil, for sautéing onion and garlic

  • 2 cups vegetable oil, for frying meatballs

  • 1 large egg

  • 1 onion, minced and sauteed

  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled, minced, and sauteed

  • ¾ teaspoon salt

  • 1 tablespoon Hungarian sweet paprika

  • 1 teaspoon ground caraway seeds

  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

  • 1 bread roll (or a sliced bread) soaked in milk then squeezed dry

  • 1 tablespoon breadcrumbs, into meatball

  • ½ cup breadcrumbs, to roll meatballs

Directions

  • Step 1: Prepare the vegetable stew. Heat butter 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: Add squash, then season with salt and pepper. With the lid on, steam-cook the squash at a low simmer for 10 minutes (no need to add liquid as it will release enough).

  • Step 3: In a medium bowl, mix together sour cream and flour and pour the mixture over the stew. Let the sauce thicken into a creamy consistency at a low simmer for 1-2 minutes. Remove pot from heat, add butter and finely chopped dill and mix well.

  • Step 4: Prepare the meatballs. Heat three tablespoons oil in a pan 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.

  • Step 5: In a large mixing bowl, combine ground meat, egg, breadcrumbs (1 tablespoon), soaked bread roll, salt, pepper, paprika, ground caraway seeds, and the sautéd onion-garlic mixture. Mix very thoroughly with hand so that all ingredients disperse evenly, then form with wet hands round and flat meatballs, about 7 cm by 2 cm (2 ¾ by 1 inch). Add the breadcrumbs into a shallow bowl, then lightly coat the meatballs in breadcrumbs.

  • Step 6: Heat 2 cups oil in a large pan over medium-high to 190 degrees Celsius (375 Fahrenheit), then carefully slide meatballs into the hot oil. Fry until a crispy, golden-brown crust develops, about 3 minutes each side. Take care not to overcrowd the pan (depending on its size, you may have to do two or three batches). When ready, transfer meatballs to a container lined with paper towel to soak up extra oil and let them cool for 5 minutes.

  • Step 7: Taste squash stew for salt and add more if needed. Serve in shallow bowls topped with one or two meatballs and crusty bread on the side.

Words of advice

The amount of chopped dill used here can make a big difference. Use a generous hand and you won't regret it, I promise.

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.