Lecso – a seasonal vegetable stew…

The kind lady at diamondsandrust requested this recipe. Here it is for her, along with some background information of how this became one of the foods for me which celebrate seasonal bounty and memory.

In post WorldWar ll Hungary, in my early formative years, all of the food acquired and prepared by my mother, Anyu, was dependent on seasonal harvests, her putting by food in early fall and then obtaining staples whenever they became available. We never saw canned or frozen processed foods, as are so commonly available here in North America these days, nor any exotic foodstuffs which are the norm for North Americans to consume and which daily arrive to us from afar.

Thus, tomato and pepper harvest time was cause for celebration and for feasting. We ate these fruits raw and cooked, when they became plentiful. Lecso was the stew, made from onions, peppers and tomatoes, either incorporating Hungarian sausage or not as desired, that when served hot or cold with langos ( fried bread) or accompanied by scrambled eggs and mashed potatoes made the eater feel as satisfied as a king or queen.

I have made lecso for over forty years now, every year in August and September, ever since I obtained my first frying pan and learned how to moderate heat while cooking. Eating this food makes me feel ageless – it condenses time, stirs memory and provides immeasurable sensory pleasure. Our son, Renaissance Man, is wild about eating lecso this time of year. This is truly odd, because for so many years of his life he refused to eat raw tomatoes. And yet, the tomatoes stewed in this dish are to his taste.

There are as many variations on the lecso recipe as are cooks. It is the principle of combining sweet onions, tomatoes and peppers, in that order and adding powdered sweet and hot paprika, as desired to taste at the time of sweating the onions to transparency. Before adding the chopped tomatoes and peppers, one can slice along the diagonal Hungarian sausage, or Bratwurst, or garlic sausage, add or not finely diced garlic, as desired. Once the tomatoes and peppers are added the heat under the pot is reduced to low, and the whole melange allowed to simmer and stew into a softened stuff for ont to two hours. Of course, the cook must taste this concoction and adjust for salt and pepper during the stewing process.

I like using yellow Hungarian banana peppers along with sweet green peppers for lecso. In my own way of preparing this dish, I allow for equal amounts of peppers, onions and tomatoes, because I love oniony stews. This is a matter of preference and is what makes it wonderful to eat this dish at other people’s tables to see what variations they have teased out of those principal ingredients. There is something delightful of setting to eat from such a dish and engaging in discussion about how a particular cook acquired a resulting taste, and then deconstructing the recipe with partisan vigour, a table. Add a small glass of wine to leaven the discussion and watch the engaging fireworks.

The recent lecso I made for us when Old Forester, Uncle Pista, was visiting included Deer pepperoni sausage. On a whim, I chopped up and added one green chili pepper to the stew. We ate the lecso for dinner one evening, and as accompaniment for scrambled eggs for breakfast, the next morning.

I need to make lecso for Renaissance Man, this week. For him, I plan to make fry bread – langos – as accompaniment. Fry bread is made in many cultures around the world. The leavened kind we Hungarians call langos is exactly the same fry bread I ate in the Taos pueblo thirteen years ago – same foodstuff different part of the world. Growing food, harvesting it,  preparing it and feasting from it is a universal activity which makes us consider our similarities rather than our differences. Celebrate this as you celebrate the season’s bounties.

16 Responses to “Lecso – a seasonal vegetable stew…”

  1. The Querulous Squirrel Says:

    My mother, a Hungarian Jew, used to make us “lecho” for breakfast, a vegetarian version probably for reasons of kashrut, because mixing in meat would have required waiting six hours until we could eat milk products. No Orthodox Jews ate meat for breakfast. Our version started with the exact order of caramelized onions, then tomatoes, then green peppers and the whole process of the vegetables took maybe fifteen minutes at the most. Salt and paprika of course, the ubiquitous Hungarian spice, sweet in our case because we were kids. And, finally, the eggs tossed in for scrambling with the mixture, seeping in the sauce and making for the best breakfast eggs to this day. My children used to beg for it. I have to confess that my adult version as been known to add Greek feta and olives. Food evolves across cultures.

  2. citrus Says:

    I’m having a heck of a time locating banana peppers. All kinds of chilies hereabouts, of course, and red, yellow and red peppers – but the banana peppers are harder to find. ideas?
    Roger

  3. suburbanlife Says:

    Oh squirrel – I love the eggs mixed in with the lecso, but my troops dislike the texture of the eggs thus obtained, so I serve scrambles alongside. Yum, to the Greek feta and olives added – and why not, if they are available. yes, food does evolve across cultures, and as ingredients become plentifully available the character seques into variations, which makes for greater variety. This is good! G

    Roger – try yellow and orange peppers in the mix. Of course, then you might use chorizo sausages for added kick ( I have tried that and liked). Who knows, you might come up with a Bourland recipe with its own invented name. I will hoist a glass of wine to your health when we next feast on lecso here! G

  4. ybonesy Says:

    Sounds scrumptious, G. I think I would love the version with Hungarian sausages.

    When I saw your first mention of “fry bread,” I immediately thought of the Native American “fry bread.” And of course, there is sopaipillas among the Chicanos. I love the Greek version, too.

    I love reading about the traditions within your family more than anything, though. That’s what makes the foods come alive.

  5. diamondsandrust Says:

    Thankyou so much for posting the recipe,as soon as the weather gets a little cooler I will certainly make it.I’m sure everyone will love it.

  6. rick mobbs Says:

    Thanks for stopping by my place and leaving a comment. I’m glad I found you! I was thinking that it is almost time to celebrate the harvest with family and friends. We have a very small garden but it has produced a lot of veggies and watching it grow and produce has tickled us and made us very happy. I was thinking corn harvest festival but we grow peppers and tomatoes and onions and lots of other things, too. I’ll forward this on. This will be fun.

  7. Tim Crofton Says:

    We’re all over it Rick…super groovey idea. I can bring pumpkins, mixed greens, radishes and all the herbs you could ever need (chives, parsley, mint, lemon balm, thyme, fennel, basil, loveage…catnip even!). I’ve got lots of local lamb too for those who aren’t veggie. It’ll be stew-pendous. Keep us posted on dates and let’s get cookin’ good lookin’. Cheers, as always, Tim

  8. rick mobbs Says:

    Sounds great, Tim. Spread the word. Suburbanlife, join us if you happen to be in NM.

  9. suburbanlife Says:

    Rick Mobbs – have fun at your festa – and don’t forget to prepare plenty of frybread. Sorry, but i don’t get around much any more, as the song goes. I do love New Mexco tho. G

  10. christine Says:

    Hmmm, I can smell the onion and the seasonings cooking while I read these words…. I’ll bet your house smells divine for a few days after preparing this meal. What a treat! Have you ever tasted someone’s lecso and been completely disappointed? That would be strange too, like trying to wear shoes that have been worn too long on someone else’s feet.

  11. suburbanlife Says:

    Christine – there is something magical about the flavour of true sweet Hungarian paprika that brings out a wonderful character of taste in these vegetables – of course, this depends on calibrating the amount of paprika to taste and not overdo or underdo it. This is simply a matter of experimentation. i probably use more spice than others because i have killled off my subtle taste-buds with years of smoking cigarettes, however, most people like my version of lecso. G

  12. Victoria Says:

    I am from Hungary,and let me just add that there are more varieties of this dish.It is a simple late summer dish,and you can eat it for lunch or light supper.You can combine the lecso with rice ,which you can cook separately and then stir it in the lecso, or cook it into the lecso-risotto style.I make it risotto style.My husband is American,and this is one of his favorites.The other one is stuffed peppers, which is peppers stuffed with ground meat and rice and slow-cooked in a tomato sauce.The tomato sauce here is not a regular, Italian-style tomato sauce,but it has paprika in it,and it has a smoky flavor.

  13. suburbanlife Says:

    Victoria – thanks for the visit and your comment. You are so right – there are so many variants on this dish – i like to eat lecso with nokkedli and even tarhonya, sometimes with roasted potatoes and sometimes with mashed. I enjoy fooing around with variant combinations; that keeps the activity of cooking an adventure. I, too, love stuffed peppers, but my men-folk don’t care for them so much so i rarely make it. G

  14. lookingforbeauty Says:

    Mom used to love fried bread – fried in bacon grease – and her background was English. I think it’s a cross cultural thing. In her youth, bread was made at home and resources were few, so that everything was eaten up. It was a great thing for day-old bread.
    Now we have concerns of cholesterol and heart disease, so these yummy staples of an earlier culture have gone by the boards, generally speaking.
    K

  15. suburbanlife Says:

    lookingforbeauty – The fry bread i am referring to is made out of small bits of raw bread dough, risen and formed into patties and then fried from raw, risen state instead of being baked. The bread your Mom used to like is really re-fried baked sliced bread, not at all the same as langos and other fry breads from around the world. G

  16. rick mobbs Says:

    Our harvest moon festival was wonderful fun, neighbors and friends and pot-luck and talk into the night. Wish you could have been there! Never did make the lesco though. We were a little too disorganized to do everything we wanted to. But next time, I’m sure there will be a next time. Thanks for the post and warm wishes. R.

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