The Clever Root

Spring 2018

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s p r i n g 2 0 1 8 | 3 5 With such plentiful produce on hand, it's no wonder that pickled, fermented, or stewed vegetables and fruits are staples of traditional Hungarian cuisine. Sauerkraut and pickled peppers, onions, gherkins, and melon rinds are a vitamin C–rich source of sustenance during the cold winter months. Other nourishing fare includes töltött káposzta (stuffed cabbage rolls), töltött paprika (stuffed peppers), and lecsó, a summer stew of succulent tomatoes, fresh paprika, eggplant, and onions. Soups are savored regularly, often as a first course; palóc- or Mikszáth leves, a green bean, sour cream, and dill soup, as well as Jókai bableves, a bean soup, are both named after Hungarian writers. Vegetarians and vegans, beware: Meat reigns supreme in Hungarian cuisine, thanks to customs rooted in nomadic Magyar traditions and pastoral pastimes that persist to this day (although livestock production has dramati- cally decreased in recent years). One example is the mixed grill (fatányéros or pecsenye), Hungary's answer to Memphis barbecue, while yet another source of pride is the Mangalica hog, a breed of domestic pig developed in the 19th century. Distinguished by its thick woolly coat and celebrated for its fat-marbled meat, it's touted as the "Kobe beef of pork." On the fowl end, csirkepaprikás, chicken stew simmered—preferably in an iron pot over an open fire—with sweet paprika and cream, is a rustic dish not to be missed. Fish stew known as halászlé, meanwhile, flourishes along the banks of Hungary's two main rivers, the Dan- ube and the Tisza, as well as its largest lake, Balaton, where catches consist of carp, pike, perch, sheatfish, and shad. Hungarians also adore sweets, a craving reflected in the lavish cakes and pastries that adorn dessert boards. Kürto " skalács, a flaky chimney pastry, endures as the country's oldest traditional treat. Lekvár (fruit preserves) pro- duced from apples, apricots, cherries, peaches, plums, strawberries, or walnuts—often found for sale on roadside stands in the Hungarian countryside—are designed to slather on hearty chucks of fresh-baked zsemle (round breads) or stuff into palacsinta (crêpes) or lekváros tekercs (a rolled sponge cake). The country has plenty to offer to health-con- scious consumers as well, as Hungary's consti- tution requires the government to promote the "right to physical and mental health" by ensuring all agriculture is free of genetically-modified or- ganisms. "We believe in quality food and healthy, clean nourishment," Horváth says. "Hungary prides itself on farming, which remains a histori- cally- and geographically-important component of our national identity. While Hungary is a small player on the world market, our food culture can be most competitive and attractive by focusing on GMO-free, organic products." Hungarian chefs continue to harness this rich cornucopia of high-quality ingredients as they showcase traditional dishes prepared with a contemporary flair. Budapest currently boasts four Michelin-star restaurants (one was just recently awarded two stars) and Hun- garian chef Tamás Széll won the incredibly- prestigious European Bocuse d'Or gastronomic competition in 2016. Frigyes Vomberg, chef and coach for Hungary's Bocuse d'Or team, says that wine continues to enjoy a noble place in Hungary's food culture. "Foodies and connoisseurs look for local varietal wine as the best match for lo- cal ingredients and dishes," he explains. "Tokaji wines produced from Furmint and Hárslevelu " provide an unparalleled and authentic food and wine experience." Vomberg suggests pairing late-harvest Tokaji with roasted pork belly and sweet potatoes; Tokaji 5 puttonyos (a designa- tion that helps indicate sweetness level) wine with duck liver on fried brioche; and for des- sert, Tokaji 6 puttonyos accompanied by peach cobbler garnished with date cream cheese. Following the successful "Year of Furmint" campaign in 2017, the "Year of Aszú" campaign for 2018 has been launched by The Clever Root's sister publication The SOMM Journal and Vinum Tokaj International. Aszú finds its place in almost all types of cuisine, whether it's Asian, Indian, Mediterranean, or—of course— traditional Hungarian, and offers plentiful possibilities for a dive into the art of Hungarian winemaking and gastronomy. In short, the old adage "what grows together, goes together" has never seemed more appetiz- ing than it does in Hungary: You have to taste it to believe it. A sweet wine like Tokaji 6 puttonyos is an excellent match for peach cobbler with date cream cheese. A recent event launching the "Year of Aszú" campaign in the U.S. also celebrated Hungarian cuisine. The reception was hosted by Dr. László Szabó (center), Hungarian Ambassador to the United States, at the Embassy of Hungary in Washington, D.C. Co-organizers included Attila Balla, Vinum Tokaj International President/CEO (left) and Enikő Magyar, Wines of Excellence Project Director (right). Dr. Ákos Horváth, Agricultural Attaché for the Embassy of Hungary, and Cliff Rames of The SOMM Journal also attended the "Year of Aszú" campaign launch. PHOTO: NICK KLEIN ■cr

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