Once, when I was a small child, growing up in eastern South Dakota, my father took my siblings and me to see reindeer in the parking lot of a Lewis Drug. One of the better customer-drawing gimmicks I had seen, at that point. While there, my father overheard a tall, dark-bearded fellow conversing with his two children in a strange tongue.
Now, my father is very fond of languages, and enjoys learning more whenever the opportunity presents itself. I’ve early memories of him carrying one of his foreign-language Bibles to Church on Sunday, reading along with the sermon, albeit in a different tongue. The Estonian Bible was his most frequent church companion, I think.
Anyway, the language this tall, dark-bearded father was speaking was as foreign to my own father as it was to me. So my father waited for a break in the conversation, and then went over, and asked that fine-bearded fellow what language he was speaking – might it be Hungarian? It wasn’t a language he was familiar with, but it had its similarities to Finnish and Estonian.
As it turned out, Dad had guessed the language correctly – helped, no doubt, by his fondness for Finno-Ugric tongues – borne out of his Finnish heritage. While Dad shared his love of languages with me, and I’ve extensively pursued Latin and Greek, I’ve yet to spend much time on the tongues of my northern forbears.
We ended up becoming close friends with that family of Hungarians, and were both guests and hosts many times over the next few years, sharing many meals. Friendships we’d never have had without Dad being inquisitive about language, and eager to have new, chance acquaintances over for coffee. And, of course, the help of a couple of reindeer.
Here’s a traditional Hungarian recipe from the mother of that family.
Something to eat on New Year’s Eve to bring fortune to you and yours throughout the next year.
3 cups Lentils (for prosperity – see how the lentils look like little coins?)
2 Tbsp Yellow Mustard
1 medium Red Onion, quartered.
1 small lemon, halved.
5 bay leaves
Garlic (either a generous sprinkling of powder or about 2 chopped cloves)
Salt and Black Pepper to taste.
A little smoked meat (if memory serves, smoked turkey was used the first time I had this, though lean pork is most traditional, especially cold smoked shortrib – Pork is supposed to bring good luck)
Cook this assemblage in water until lentils are done – I like it to have the consistency of a porridge.
Remove the onion, bay leaves, and lemon before serving with the following sauce.
Place 1-2 Tbsp flour in 2-3 Tbsp of hot oil, whisking until homogeneous.
Add red paprika powder generously, letting it bloom in the hot oil.
Mix with 1/2 cup sour cream and some milk, until desired consistency is reached.
The sauce should be smooth and a bright orange in color.
I suspect that this was how the mother of our Hungarian friends substituted for Hungarian Paprika Paste, being unable to get it in the American Midwest. She later brought us some Univer Red Gold paste as a gift, after a visit back to Hungary. What a treasure that was!