I was hungry for Hungarian cooking, not the dumplings like fist-size white canon balls like you get in German cooking, not the Hungarian winter salads consisting solely of a pile of grated carrot or grated beet served sans dressing; no, my taste buds lusted for a flavor and texture totally different from the usually bland foods served to tourists in Eastern Europe.
Hungary seems to be the only country in Eastern or Western Europe to have really fallen in love with all the kinds of peppers that made their way across the Atlantic post-1492. That includes hot peppers. They make a hot paprika that really puts zing into a beef stew. The heat of its long-cooking adds kitchen cheer and comfort to a cold, rainy day, too. So I made a spicy Hungarian beef stew the other night.
You could cook this in a crockpot. I cooked mine in a wide, deep skillet that owns a cover. It could also be oven-cooked in a covered casserole at 325 degrees.
Spicy Beef Ragout
Serves 3 to 4
¼ pound bacon, or grease left from frying bacon, or 3 Tablespoons olive oil or lard, divided
1 pound stew meat cut in about-2-inch chunks
Flour for dredging
1 to 1½ cups coarsely chopped yellow onion
1 or 2 carrots cut in 1-inch chunks
3 or 4 large mushrooms, stems and caps sliced separately
1 small bay leaf
2 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon coarse black pepper
1 teaspoon crumbled dried marjoram leaves or 1 Tablespoon fresh marjoram leaves
2 teaspoons sweet paprika
½ to 1 teaspoon hot paprika or cayenne to taste
1 wineglass Merlot or other red wine
Beef stock or bouillon or water to cover
Dredge the meat in flour and shake off the excess. Set aside while you sauté the vegetables in half the fat. Clean the mushrooms. Slice. Heat remaining fat in a skillet and sauté the mushroom slices on each side.
Brown the meat on each side, adding more oil or other fat if necessary. Combine with the vegetables and mushrooms. Add the herbs and spices. Add wine. Add water to cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat. Cook on medium low, covered, until meat is very tender, about 2 hours, checking and adding more water as needed. (For faster cooking, cut the meat in bite-size pieces before dredging and browning.)
To serve, spoon steamed rice into wide soup bowls. Ladle the stew over the rice.
Nutritionally, both the big bell peppers and the little jalapeno-size peppers provide Vitamins A and C.