Csíkszereda Musings

My life in and around Csíkszereda, also known as Miercurea Ciuc.

Tök paprikás

Posted by Andy Hockley on 7 July, 2008

Yesterday I invented a new dish, which, I believe, will quickly become accepted as a new standard in Hungarian cuisine. Actually, I cannot imagine that nobody has previously hit upon this dish, so I probably was not actually the first discoverer of this, but like Columbus, I am laying claim to it anyway. (Googling “tök paprikás” brings out two links, so there is the suggestion that I am not exactly the first, but close enough – in 2008, two links is practically as obscure as to be on the dark side of Titan)

Anyway, paprikás, for anyone who doesn’t know, is the true national dish of Hungarians. Goulash is all very well and that, but people don’t eat it that often. Chicken paprikas (Csirke paprikás) is guaranteed to be on any menu anywhere in the Hungarian speaking world (possibly with the exception of vegetarian restaurants, though even they probably serve it as it may be an act of treason not to). Chicken is the most popular version, though there are others, including mushroom paprikas which is pretty damn finom (delicious).

Well, yesterday while in a friend’s garden I hit upon the superb idea of tök paprikás. First though I will have to explain what tök is. A tök is kind of a courgette, but not really. It’s a much lighter green colour, and it has a thicker skin. Even in the US, a country which seems to have thousands of different varieties of squash, I never saw the tök. Though it does resemble the summer squash quite a lot, except that it’s pale green and not yellow. It’s pretty good as long as you don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s just a light green courgette. It has a firmness and density that allows for some different options. It doesn’t go quite as well in a ratatouille as a courgette for example, but for tök paprikás it can’t be beat.

Anyway, I was complimenting our hosts on their tök crop, and they said, yes, but they’re only small at the moment. I argued that they weren’t small at all, but actually perfectly sized. Picking them late when they’re massive, runs into the same problem that you get with courgettes – thick inedible skin, massive seeds that you have to scoop out, tasteless flesh. To prove that I was correct, and they utterly wrong, I offered to cook one. And thus was born tök paprikás.

Without further ado then, to the recipe for this great invention that will be sweeping the world within a few short millenia:

Finely chop an onion and slowly cook it in oil until transparent (is the verb I need here “sweat”?). Add to this some paprika (piros paprika as it is known here – the red powder made from dried and ground red peppers). Fry for another minute and then throw in your quartered and sliced tök (at this point my hosts were stunned when I didn’t peel the tök, but that’s people for you. Weird), some fresh dill and some salt. Put a lid on it for a while and let it cook (the tök exudes its own liquid so you don’t need to add any). Stir occasionally. After about 10-15 minutes it should be done, at which point, you throw in some flour, and then some milk, stir until it has a thickish sauce. Bring it back to the boil for a minute, and Robi’s your uncle. Tök paprikás. It goes well with mashed potato.

(This recipe works for any other paprikas you want to make, just substitute your ingredient of choice for the tök. I’m now trying to work out what other things would work. Aubergine wouldn’t, I reckon, but kohlrabi might. As might leeks. I’ll let you know.)

It may have helped that all the ingredients were so fresh (tök, onion and dill were all especially picked just for this dish and cooked within 10 minutes of their harvest). I also fried up the tök plant flowers for fun, and they actually turned out to be delicious too (though if not peeling tök was weird, eating flowers was positively certifiable).

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