I guess the consensus is that 2020 was the annus horribilis.
The pandemic paved the way, triggering a cascade of sinister events: loved ones suffering or dying from the virus or illnesses they normally shouldn’t have because hospitals were banned; the government’s assault on our civil liberties; the incarceration of dissidents and role models, old and young; the end of handshakes and vacations.
I hate to tell you, but I doubt 2021 is the annus mirabilis.
The virus is not going to go away, and it is not known whether the handful of vaccines on the horizon will resist its disturbing new mutations. The government is not going to let go; we’re not going to get involved anytime soon; and the stresses and strains on our lives will remain.
The only thing that seems consistent is our need to eat. By dint of being confined to their homes, people who had never entered the kitchen were doing it, and others were experimenting more than ever.
When I try to step out of our little pandemic era cocoon and spread my culinary wings, so to speak, I find there is no better place to visit than my collection of culinary adventures. across the country and the world.
Food writing is my happy place.
I am reading Secret Ingredients: The New York Book of Food and Drink: memoirs, poems, tales of writers as diverse as Roald Dahl, Malcolm Gladwell and Steve Martin, taken from the magazine’s 88-year treasury.
I just received Desi Delights, a collection of culinary writings from Muslim South Asia: essays, recipes and stories from chefs, writers and historians. Haven’t read it yet, but it seems to offer what I love: a rich assortment of cuisines, lifted by politics and history.
A book that I haven’t pulled out – and carried is the appropriate term – for a while is Culinary, a large format 640-page collection on European cuisine. It is a culinary encyclopedia, a meticulous tale of the mundane and the exotic, the combined work of writers and photographers who have researched bakers, farmers, shepherds, pastry chefs, Michelin-starred chefs and home cooks. from across the continent.
The variety of ingredients and food ranges from boring and canned baked beans from England to smoked reindeer hearts in a cream sauce from the nomads of northern Norway to smÃ¸rrebrÃ¸d, Danish open-faced sandwiches including I remember, during a Copenhagen winter, being one of the most delicious small meals ever, especially one that had smoked eel with scrambled eggs.
For this week I have focused on Hungary, a country whose cuisine lies at the confluence of West and East, once occupied by the Turks and later influenced by the French and Austro-Hungarian Empire. Culinary tells us that Hungary was once entirely a country of nomads, who gave the country the tradition of a cast-iron Dutch oven, the bogrÃ¡cs, in which this famous Hungarian dish, goulash, is cooked.
What the world knows as goulash, Culinary tells us, has many names in Hungary. The root word is gulyÃ¡s– for the shepherds and the soup they prepared – and gulyashus was the dried meat they carried on long journeys in bags made from sheep stomachs, to be mixed with water and heated as needed.
What I cooked was a pÃ¶rkÃ¶lt, whose sauce is red and thick and of a different consistency than gulyÃ¡s. This matches, says Culinary, what the world calls a goulash.
The book has versions with beef and veal, but I chose the version with chicken, a csirkepÃ¶rkÃ¶lt– no, don’t ask me to say it. It was easy to do, in keeping with my mantra of simplicity for 2021. I made a few changes to Indianize it, replacing the fat with ghee and paprika with Kashmiri pepper powder.
Now I understand that a Hungarian can be horrified, because paprika is the quintessential spice in Hungarian cuisine and closely associated, says Culinary, with the Hungarian character – “fiery, spicy and temperamental”. He clearly has ties to us, so the Kashmir mirch may not be such a distant leap. Paprika was introduced to Hungary by the Turks in the early 16th century, possibly, the book says, via Persia and from India. For centuries, the Hungarians called it “Indian pepper”.
And there you have it, the Indian connection, although I frowned a bit because chili peppers were first imported to India in the same century that they were supposed to have traveled to Hungary. If you have a solution to this conundrum, let me know. I’m off to taste my goulash.
INDIAN CSIRKEPÃRKÃLT (HUNGARIAN CHICKEN GOULASH)
Indian CsirkepÃ¶rkÃ¶lt of Samar Halarnkar
For 4 people
750g of chicken pieces
3 teaspoons of Kashmiri pepper powder (ideally paprika)
3 tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon of tomato paste
1 red pepper, diced
2 onions, chopped
10 pieces of garlic, crushed
Half a cup of red wine
Half tablespoon of ghee
Salt to taste
Marinate the chicken in the tomato paste, Kashmir mirch, garlic and salt. In a non-stick skillet, gently heat the ghee, sautÃ© the onions until translucent. Add the marinated chicken, cover and simmer for 15 minutes, lowering the heat. Add the tomatoes, red pepper and wine, cover and simmer for 30 minutes, adding a little water if necessary. Adjust the salt. Optional: If you want to tenderize the meat more, transfer it to a baking dish and bake for 30 minutes at 150 degrees Celsius.
Our Daily Bread is a column on easy and inventive cooking. Samar Halarnkar is the author of The Married Man’s Guide To Creative Cooking â And Other Dubious Adventures.