Visiting Hungary’s capital, you can’t fail to notice the strings of vibrant red peppers hung or displayed proudly in shops and restaurants. Paprika, the spice created from the peppers, takes a central role in traditional Hungarian cuisine, used in goulash, paprikash (a meat dish with a broth of paprika and sour cream), and fisherman’s soup (halászlé); sweet paprika is even used in cakes!
The spice arrived in Hungary in the sixteenth century, via the Ottomans who officially incorporated the Kingdom of Hungary into their empire in 1541. It originates in central Mexico, and was first brought to Europe by the Spanish.
Hungary now contains two paprika museums, which are also working factories – in Kalocsa and Szeged – both towns are centres of paprika production. Here, in the south of Hungary, the weather is sunnier, which allows the plant to become ripe and sweet. When once the dried pods were crushed under foot and ground into powder by pestle and mortar, in the 19th century steam-powered mills made this process much quicker. The Pálfy brothers from Szeged then invented a way to remove the veins and seeds, which made it possible to mass-produce the sweeter variety of paprika which is popular today.
To make Hungarian goulash soup (serves 4):
- 400g beef shank/ chuck cubed
- 2 onions diced
- 2 carrots diced
- 1 parsnip diced
- 2 potatoes cubed
- 1 green pepper chopped
- 2 tomatoes chopped
- 1 tbsp oil
- 1 tbsp paprika powder
- 1 garlic clove crushed
- 1 tsp caraway seed, black pepper, & salt
- Parsley to season
- 250ml water
Chop the onion and brown it in the oil, then add the chopped meat. Stir until browned and powder it with the paprika.
Add the garlic, salt, caraway seed, black pepper, and tomatoes. Fill with enough water to cover the meat, stir, and simmer for about 30 minutes.
Add the carrot, parsnip, green pepper, and some parsley and bring to the boil.
Then turn to a low heat and add in the potatoes with some more water. Simmer until the potatoes and the meat are well cooked.
 This is a recipe I picked up whilst visiting Budapest. There are, of course, many varieties of goulash.