Autumn has been creeping in slowly, inspite of still frequent electric blue skies and warming sunbeams. The colors of flowers and fruits are now fading away, squashes of all sizes and colors started invading the kitchen, and the cooler evenings and first rainy days remind us of comforting, hot dishes. And apart from some sore throats and blocked sinuses, autumn carries so much goodness ! Mushrooms, especially.
I’m not confident enough when it comes to hunting and using those often funny looking and sometimes poisonous mushrooms growing at the foot of forest trees (for your information, these right above aren’t edible). Yet, I’m now fortunate to live in an area where the freshest choice of cultivated mushrooms is within easy reach.
Thus I’ve been making gomba pörkölt (“per-kelt”), which is a very decent meatless alternative to the Hungarian well-known paprikás (“paprikash”) stews. Even though it’s vegetarian, the very same ways are involved as for making that kind of dish with meat : fry some onions in oil, sprinkle with red paprika powder, add the prepared main ingredient to brown it slightly, then simmer with water till the desired consistency has been reached before adding more seasonings.
Yet, it’s much more straightforward to cook mushrooms down than simmer meat till tender ! Even the cleaning tasks may be very limited if you don’t let the mushrooms wait and turn dry or mushy.
No need to go for pricey mushrooms. The cheaper species still make for a delicious dish, providing they are fresh enough. I simply used abalone, crimini and shiitake mushrooms this time, and have been quite satisfied in terms of both taste and texture.
It’s best to not rinse them but clean them using a wet paper towel, but I do rinse brown cap mushrooms besides cutting the moldy part of the foot (as well as for white button mushrooms). There’s not much to do with shiitakes once their feet have been discarded, and the molds over the caps of abalone mushrooms, if any, can be gently scraped off with a knife.
The dried marjoram, together with the paprika, lends its characteristic Hungarian taste to this dish, so if you’re in search of authentic flavours, don’t leave it out !
Yet I’ve also been experimenting by adding a bit of fresh whey to give a tangy edge – common to many Central European warming dishes – to the stew. This one can definitely be left out if you don’t have it on hand or aim for a vegan dish, but do think about it if you’d like to use up some leftover from making cheese…
Hungarian mushroom stew with paprika and marjoram (gomba pörkölt)
4 servings (note: when making this for 2 servings only, I like to use my small chinese claypot which imparts an additional “rustic” flavour to the stew…don’t miss giving it a try if you own such a dish too !)
- about 1 lb mixed choice of fresh mushrooms – I used 200 gr. (~12) crimini/chestnut mushrooms (called “blond Paris mushrooms” in France) + 175 gr. abalone mushrooms + 50 gr. (~4) fresh shiitake mushrooms
- 100 gr. (1 medium) onion, chopped
- 1,5 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 tsp (heaping) red paprika powder
- 1,5-2 cups water
- a few tbsp fresh whey / 1 stock cube (optional)
- 1 tsp salt
- freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- ½ tbsp dried marjoram
Clean the mushrooms (as mentioned above) and chop them into bite-sized pieces. The smaller can be left whole.
Heat the oil over medium heat in a heavy-bottomed pot and fry the chopped onions gently, without browning. When they get soft and translucent, turn off the heat, sprinkle the paprika over and mix well before adding the mushrooms. Add water to cover and whey if available or stock if you aim for a “richer” taste. Bring slowly to the boil then simmer over low heat, with the lid ajar, until the mushrooms are cooked through (10-15 mns).
Switch the heat to high and keep cooking uncovered, stirring from time to time, until the broth has reduced to your desired consistency (more or less 5 mns). Season with marjoram and pepper, check taste and add more salt if needed before serving. Some chili paste can be added too if you like your dishes hot !
Enjoy as it is, along with a good sourdough bread or over nokedli (the Hungarian word for spätzle) – homemade of course preferred !