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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’.