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I awoke this morning to another cold winter’s day. I stepped out of my front door and was welcomed by a sky that was overcast, air that was crisp, and the distant chattering of teeth of all of my neighbours who were warming their cars and preparing to brave the cold for another day. I reckon for a cold day like this, hearty dinner fare is needed required to keep us all from morphing into icicles. I am keeping true to my word today that I will push the culinary envelope and cajole you into stepping outside of your cooking comfort zone. This is the perfect recipe for just that. It’s unfamiliar enough to intrigue you but not so obscure that it’s off-putting.
Paprika is the soul of this dish and the cornerstone of Hungarian cuisine. You remember paprika, don’t you? It’s that under-appreciated spice that lives somewhere in the back of your spice cabinet; you know, that one that you have to move ten other spice bottles around just to find; the spice you bought when you moved into your new place and needed another spice to complete the collection on the shiny new spice bottle rack you purchased? And when you do find it — somewhere deep in the recesses of your pantry — we all know what you do with it: You use a modest sprinkling of it in some recipe like devilled eggs or hummus for the sake of adding a little colour. Hmph. Well, paprika may not be as popular as its friends, ‘cayenne’ and ‘turmeric’, but it is definitely worthy of praise. It is smoky and deeply fragrant and does more than just add colour to your dishes. If you’ve paused from reading this to sniff your paprika spice bottle and what you’re smelling is a flat one-note spice — a far cry from what I’ve just described — your paprika is probably past its prime. You’d be wise to replace it with fresh paprika powder. [Food fact: paprika powder is made by grinding up the pods of a variety of pepper plants which are in the capsicum family]
Hungarian cuisine doesn’t quite have the ubiquitous influence that I believe — after making this dish — it deserves. This meal is a staple dish in Hungary and really comes together beautifully. The stew is thick and saucy and can be served on top of wide egg noodles (store-bought ones that you boil for a few minutes) but I opted to try my hand at making traditional Hungarian ‘nokedli’; a soft textured egg noodle/dumpling and Hungary’s answer to Germany’s ‘spaetzle’.
I browned the meat in two batches. The meat tends to stick to the bottom because of the fact that it’s coated in flour and shallow-fried. You want to ensure that your heat is high enough to produce a nice sear on the meat but not so high that the meat burns. My pot was left with all sorts of lovely brown bits at the bottom of it after I was done browning the meat, but don’t fret too much if that happens – the broth that’s added to the pan will beautifully lift all of those fragrant delicious bits right off the bottom of the pot to season your stew.
So this was my first attempt at Hungarian nokedli dumplings. They are very similar to German spaetzle as they’re made using the same technique — by passing a soft dough through a ‘noodle grater’ of sorts, into boiling water. The dough is soft and sticky (very sticky) and should resemble a wet pizza dough when it’s mixed correctly. If your dough is too dry, add some water. If it’s too wet, add — waaait, you already know the answer to that is ‘flour’, right? 😉
If you know me, you know I’m a fan of unitaskers – those lovely kitchen gadgets that only serve one purpose. They’re a waste of space when you’re not using them, but, oh, how I love to collect them. Sadly, I didn’t have a snazzy spaetzle maker so I deferred to being resourceful. I figured using something that resembled the surface of the spaetzle maker (i.e. something with the same sized perforations) would do the trick. I first attempted to use a metal colander. The perforations on the surface looked a little small to push dough through but I imagined that if I used a bench scraper (a dough scraper) or the back of a flexible spatula to coax small portions of the dough through the perforations, it would work. Hmm. Was I dead wrong. The holes on the colander were so small that even after really putting some elbow grease into it, I couldn’t push the dough through. In fact, the dough just started to harden and cook on the surface of the colander because the water was rising up and steaming it! It wasn’t pretty and it left me with a little less dough to work with and a few mild steam burns on my hands.
My second attempt: With my first nokedli failure behind me, with the remaining dough, I resorted to what proved to be somewhat of a successful (albeit laborious and painful) attempt. I used the top of a cheese grater bowl (I inverted it so the smooth side was facing me) and attempted to push the dough through the perforations by using the spatula to drag the dough back and forth. Just thinking of it again has be winded. It was
tiring physically exhausting. My hand kept cramping up because the hot steam that was rising from the pot kept me from getting a firm grip on the side of the cheese grater. I had to juggle pushing the dough through the holes, going back for more dough, and frequently stopping to use the slotted spoon to remove the cooked dumplings that had floated to the top.
By the end of it, my stove, my pot, my cheese grater and my hands were covered in sticky dough. Despite that, when I pulled the plump little dumplings out of the water, I was pleasantly surprised that they actually came together. The lesson to be learned here, kids, is don’t try this at home if you don’t have a spaetzle maker. Get yourself one. They’re around $5-$10 depending on where you live in North America. [You can get them here if you’re in the U.S. and here if you’re in Canada.] If you’re not convinced that you need one, take a look at the photo below – that’s a glimpse at how many different kitchen tools went into producing the dumplings. If you’re still not convinced and would rather guffaw at my harrowing misadventure than try it yourself, you can always make this dish with wide egg noodles. This recipe actually makes a ton of stew (enough for about 6 very hungry people), so I also boiled up some store-bought egg noodles and packed them along with some leftover stew in my husband’s lunch. It was equally delicious with the store-bought wide egg noodles.
So after I caught my breath from that intense nokedli session, I added the cooked dumplings to a large pan of warmed butter and tossed them about with black pepper. You shouldn’t have to add any more salt if your water was amply salted, but you make that call after you’ve tasted the finished dumplings. After I finished them off in the pan, naturally, I was curious to taste them. I don’t use the term ‘OMG’ very often – mostly because over-used acronyms tend to annoy me – but I have to say this…O-M-G.!! These curious little noodles were incredibly tasty! They were soft (much like a freshly cooked homemade pasta) and gloriously coated in just enough butter. I must have eaten four or five teaspoonfuls before I realized I had lost a lot of dough in the process of experimenting and, well, I had very few dumplings to spare. This nokedli recipe proved to be somewhat of a challenge, but, by george, it was worth it!
1.5 lbs veal shoulder, trimmed of fat and cubed
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons (60 ml) canola (or vegetable) oil
3 medium (or 1 very large) onions
5 cloves garlic
1/2 red bell pepper
1/2 yellow bell pepper
1/2 green bell pepper
1 1/2 cup (375 ml) beef broth (or water)
2 tablespoons paprika powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups (500 ml) crushed tomatoes
3/4 cup sour cream
a few sprigs of parsley for garnish
1 large pot filled with water and 2 tablespoons of salt
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup water
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons (30 grams or 1 ounce) butter
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Prepare the Stew:
Dredge/coat the cubes of veal in flour until they are coated completely. Heat the oil in a large saucepan or dutch oven over medium heat. Add half of the veal pieces and brown on both sides just until a deep brown colour develops and you get a nice sear. Remove the half-cooked veal and set aside in a plate. Repeat with the remaining pieces of veal and transfer to the same plate.
Dice the onions and finely mince the garlic. Add them to the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion begins to brown lightly. Chop the bell peppers and add them along with the paprika, cayenne, salt and pepper and then stir until combined. Add the broth (or water) and allow the brown bits at the bottom of the pan to release and incorporate into the mixture. Add the crushed tomatoes. Return the half-cooked veal to the pot. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to medium low and simmer, partially covered, until the meat is tender; about one and a half hours. [Note: you may have to add a 1/2 cup of water during the cooking process if your liquid has evaporated before your meat is cooked through]. Add the sour cream and stir until it is combined completely.
Prepare the Nokedli (dumplings): Bring the pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. In a large mixing bowl, use a wooden spoon to combine the flour, eggs, salt and water. Mix until combined. The dough should be soft and very sticky to the touch (like a wet pizza dough). Allow the mixture to rest for about 10 minutes. Mix the dough one more time to ensure the consistency hasn’t change. Using a spaetzle maker (or a colander with large enough holes and a flexible spatula, if you’re brave enough), place the device across the pot, allowing it to rest on the sides of the pot. Push the dough through the perforations (if you’re using a spaetzle maker, you would slide the little bowl that sits on the perforated screen, back and forth), allowing the dough to pass through the perforations and drop down into the water. You’ll know the noodles/dumplings are cooked when they float to the top. Use a large slotted spoon to remove the noodles from the pot and transfer to a colander. Rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process. You’ll want to make the dumplings in 2 or 3 batches so they don’t overcook.
Heat a large frying pan over medium heat and melt the butter. Add the dumplings to the pan and gently mix them around, coating them with butter. Add the black pepper. Be careful not to burn or brown the dumplings; they should just heat through and become glossy with the melted butter. Taste them to ensure they are well seasoned with salt. Add more salt as needed.
Serve: Place the warmed nokedli in individual serving bowls. Top with veal paprikash and sprigs of parsley and serve immediately.