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25 March 2009
George's family is Hungarian-American, with the typical obsession with paprika quality. Upon entering the family I quickly understood that if I wanted to fit in I'd better stick with the official Szeged paprika (Szeged is near where George's grandfather George grew up on a paprika plantation). George's grandfather George also grew and ground his own paprika peppers. If you can get your hands on some fresh paprika at the farmer's market, you can do what we did and put it in the blender. Then make loads of paprikàs, force your friends to help you eat it, and ply them with liquor so they don't complain.
George's family is quite particular about their paprikàs, pronounced paprikash. When I told Grandma Bessie over the phone how George was making it, she immediately protested that one NEVER puts tomato and pepper in. Doug was shocked that George had once made it with heavy cream (it tasted like high-falutin' tomato curry that day). And they were united in disbelief that both George and I prefer it with seitan, or "fake meat," as Doug described it.
However, George once served chicken paprikàs and seitan paprikàs side by side for my mother and me, and the three of us agreed that the seitan version was far far better. Yesterday we served it to Doug and Julia, and in the tradition of Jack Sprat and his wife, they licked their plates clean. Seitan, in case you were wondering, is wheat gluten (pictured above), bane of celiacs. It is a traditional Chinese or Japanese ingredient with other names like fu or mock-duck meat. When pre-marinated, it's juicy and shreds like chicken, and if you've ever had Mock Goose, you've eaten it. Although in my experience meat-eaters are uniformly fond of seitan, you always find it in the supermarket next to the reviled, emasculating tofu.
This recipe is adapted by George from George Lang's The Cuisine of Hungary. George Lang (are all Hungarians named George?) is the foremost authority on real Hungarian food, and his cookbook is more like a cultural encyclopedia than a collection of recipes.
1 or 2 medium onions, minced
1 lb. pre-marinated seitan, diced
1 large or 2 small tomatoes, diced
1 heaping Tablespoon Pride of Szeged sweet delicacy paprika (seriously)
1 teaspoon salt
2 frying peppers, sliced thinly
2 Tablespoons sour cream or more if you like
1 Tablespoon flour
Use a large heavy pot with a lid.
1. Saute onions in oil on low heat for 5 minutes. They should not be browned.
2. Add seitan and tomato and cook, covered, 10 minutes.
3. Stir in paprika. Add 1/2 cup water and the salt. Cook covered over very low heat for 20 minutes. Continue cooking uncovered 10 minutes.
4. Mix the sour cream, flour, and 1 teaspoon cold water together. Stir into the sauce until it is very smooth.
5. Add frying peppers and adjust salt to taste. Cover again and cook until peppers are soft.
You can serve this over egg dumplings, egg noodles, egg barley, rice, or cauliflower. It's also good by itself.