Lecso [pronunciation letsho] is one of the most distinctive traditional Hungarian dishes for a reason. If anyone doubts that Hungarian cuisine provides excellent ideas to spice up your life – try Hungarian lecso now!
Take some vegetables and add only a few spices to cook one of the world’s most delicious dishes – that’s why Hungarian lecso is highly appreciated even by gastronomic experts!
There is a wide variety of lecsos in Hungary – the recipe varies across households. Let me share with you my favorite one here. That’s the one that the renown actor Sandor Csikos, Merited Performing Artist of Hungary shared with me.
A Note On Making Hungarian Lecso Outside Hungary
One of the key ingredients of the famous Hungarian lecso is Hungarian sweet pepper or Hungarian wax pepper. Unfortunately you cannot find this type of pepper in some countries. I find Cubanelle (or Cuban pepper) is the closest thing you can use to make this dish. Read Saveur magazine’s article about Hungarian wax peppers, and find them online in season at Melissa’s.
As far as the other key ingredient, use ripe, almost sweet tomatoes. You can only find these during the summer, usually at farmers’ markets.
Note: In case you are a vegetarian, or you follow a strict vegan diet, skip bacon and fat and use vegetable oil (e.g. olive oil) instead.
- Prepare your vegetables;
- Finely chop onions.
- Remove green peppers’ core, and cut them into 1/5 – 2/5 inch (5 – 10 mm) slices.
- Peel your tomatoes, remove stems and dice them.
The best way to prepare your green peppers is to hold them in one hand, then push the stem inside with the other hand, while twisting slightly. Pull out and remove core. Shake it to get rid of seeds. Cut your green peppers in half lengthwise, and then slice them.
- Cut your speck into strips. Render fat in a large pot, adding some more fat or oil.
- Start steaming your onions over high heat. Add salt at the beginning so that it can release moisture. Continue to cook for about 6 minutes, until translucent.
- Add green peppers. Mix thoroughly, stir occasionally and cook for about 6 minutes over medium-high heat.
- Take your pot off the heat. Add paprika and ground pepper, stir and put back on the stove.
- Add tomatoes, stir.
- Cook over medium-low heat for about 4 minutes.
Remember, you can make a vegan or vegetarian lecso using only vegetable oil. Then skip this step.
You want to steam your onions over high heat, but not frying them. You’re onions shouldn’t get any color other then being translucent.
Your green peppers should be limp, but not too soft.
Your peppers should be between soft and limp, but not yet starting to release their skin. You shouldn’t overcook your tomatoes, just let them be mushy. If your tomatoes aren’t juicy enough, add approx. ½ a cup (100 ml) water – but this is rarely the case. Add salt, if necessary.
How To Serve Hungarian Lecso
Lecso is best when served warm and fresh. Serve it with fresh white bread.
You can store it in a fridge for several days and then reheat it. It’ll be almost as good as fresh.
This is a basic lecso recipe. People in Hungary almost always add some other ingredients to enrich this dish.
- Maybe the most popular version is made with eggs. Just lightly beat 3-5 eggs for this quantity. Lower the heat and pour eggs into your lecso. Let it cook over low heat for about a minute. Stir occasionally, until your eggs resemble soft scrambled eggs. Serve immediately.
- Hot dog or sausage is also popular with lecso. Just slice them and let them cook in your lecso for about 4-5 minutes.
- You can also add rice. To prevent overcooking your lecso, precook your rice in water, then add it to your lecso and let the cooking process finish in a few minutes.
The Key To Making The Best Hungarian Lecso
Of course this depends on what you call the perfect lecso. It’s a matter of individual taste and partly of family traditions, I admit. Everyone have their own lecso recipe in Hungary, so you can be sure to find hundreds if not thousands of variations of this recipe, all being fantastic.
However, there are some key points to making a good lecso worth highlighting. Pay attention to these below, and your lecso will be enjoyed by all:
- Use lots of onions and braise them in a large amount of fat. When you look up the ingredients, you’ll see that this recipe requires 1 ½ pounds (700 g) of onions for 2 ¼ pounds of green peppers, which may appear too much at first. That’s exactly what will make your lecso authentic and yummy!
- Unless you are a vegetarian, for half the total amount of fat in this recipe, use some high quality fat, e.g. duck / goose fat or good quality pork (maybe mangalica) lard.
- Cook lecso when green peppers are in season. Not all types of green peppers make a good lecso, read my instructions above the recipe.
- The other key ingredient is tomato. Only juicy, summer tomatoes make an authentic lecso. The ones you can buy in the supermarkets are improved to maintain their quality during transportation, and they make a tasteless lecso. Use sweet summer tomatoes, preferably from a farmers’ market. In case you’d like to cook lecso during winter time, use Italian canned diced tomatoes. They’re harvested in Sicily in summer when ripe and sweet, and they’re at least as tasty as Hungarian ones.
- Last but not least, do not overcook your lecso. It is best when green peppers are cooked through, but they don’t fall apart and you can still bite into them. Also your tomatoes should be mushy, but you could be able to see some smaller pieces of tomato in your dish.
Enjoy your lecso!