Expat Explainer: Hungarian Christmas Feast - Including Authentic Recipes

  • 23 Dec 2021 10:38 AM
Expat Explainer: Hungarian Christmas Feast - Including Authentic Recipes
In Hungary, Christmas Eve is spent with the immediate family – parents, children, grandparents, and possibly a few very close friends.

The families congregate around the decorated Christmas tree late in the afternoon, candles are lit and traditional Christmas carols sung, while everyone looks at the decorated presents beneath the tree, eager to locate their own. And when the joy and excitement of present-giving has faded, the Christmas meal begins.

The festively laid tables are decorated with green fir twigs, Christmas confectionery, oranges or polished, red-cheeked apples, which symbolize peasant culture, health and love. As a relic of the earlier church tradition of fasting for Advent, it is still traditional for fish to be eaten by many Hungarian families on Christmas Eve — halászlé (fish soup).

Popular desserts with poppy seeds, hence the poppy seed roll and, in many places, also strip noodles with poppy seeds or poppy seed pudding, recall an even older tradition. The innumerable tiny seeds were originally meant as a fertility charm, to ensure a plentiful harvest in the coming year at the winter solstice.

On the first and second days of the Christmas holiday, karácsonyi pulykasült (Christmas turkey), gesztenyével töltött pulyka (turkey with chestnut stuffing) or töltött káposzta (stuffed cabbage) are served.

If a pig has been butchered before Christmas, the menu consists of butchering celebration soup, sausages, and roast pork with the usual potato and vegetable accompaniments.

The prelude to the feast is usually a meat soup and the meal is rounded off with some sort of sweet confectionery, bagels being a particular favorite. This great culinary event is accompanied by noble wines of a quality worthy of the occasion.

A traditional Christmas Eve menu

Borleves (wine soup) Rántott ponty (breaded fillets of carp) with majonézes krumplisaláta (potato salad with tartare sauce) or creamed potato Diós és mákos beigli (poppy seed and nut rolls) as well as cakes and cookies

Borleves (Wine soup)

3 1/3 cups/800 ml white wine
½ cup/120 g crystal sugar
I small cinnamon stick
4 cloves
4 egg yolks

Put 3 cups/700 ml of white wine and 3/4 cup/200 ml of water in a pan with the sugar, cinnamon, and cloves and bring to a boil.

Meanwhile, beat the egg yolks with the remaining wine until creamy. Add the hot wine mixture to the egg yolks, stirring continuously and reheat. Be careful though, the soup must not be allowed to boil, otherwise the egg yolks will curdle. Pass the soup through a strainer and serve immediately.

Rántott ponty (Breaded fillet of carp)

8 carp fillets (2 ¾-3 1/2 oz/80-100g each)
3/4 cup/100 g flour
2 cups/120 g fine fresh breadcrumbs
2 eggs
1 1/4 cups/300 ml oil

Season the carp fillets using more salt than you would on meat. Sift the flour onto a flat plate and place the breadcrumbs on another.

Beat the eggs in a wide dish and season with a pinch of salt. Turn the fillets in the flour, then dip them in the egg and finally coat with breadcrumbs on both sides.

Immediately lay the fillets in hot oil and cover the skillet. After 5 minutes turn the fillets over onto the other side and leave them, uncovered, to fry until crisp.

Majonézes krumplisaláta (Potato salad with tartare sauce)

2 1/4 lbs/1 kg firm potatoes
1 small onion
¾ -1 1/4 cups/200-300 ml tartare sauce

Cook the potatoes in their skins, peel and cut them into X inch/5 mm slices. Peel the onion and add it to the potatoes whole.

Prepare a marinade using water, vinegar, salt, and sugar, and pour it over the potatoes while they are still warm. Leave to marinate for 12—24 hours; then remove the onion, drain and turn the potatoes in the tartare sauce.

Mákos guba mézzel (Poppy seed pudding with honey)

8 butter horns a few days old
1 2/3 cups/400 ml milk
4 tsp/20 g butter
1 cup/150 g poppy seeds
1 1/3 cups/150 g confectioners’ sugar
1-2 tbsp honey

Cut the butter horns into slices A inch/1.25 cm thick and soak in the milk. The slices should be soft but not mushy.

Grease a heatproof mold, add the butter horns and dry out in a preheated (medium) oven for 10—15 minutes. In the meantime, grind the poppy seeds and mix them with the confectioners’ sugar.

Sprinkle this mixture over the hot horns and bake for another 5 minutes. Remove from the oven, drizzle generously with honey, and serve hot.

Karácsonyi pulykasült (Christmas turkey)

7-10 oz/200-300 g smoked bacon
1 oven-ready turkey (51/2—653/4 lbs/2-5-3 kg)
2 cooking apples (or quinces)
2/3 cup/150 g butter
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 tbsp white wine

Cut the bacon into thin slices and batten them out slightly. Cover the turkey breast with slices of bacon and secure using cooking thread. Cut the remaining slices into thin strips and use them to lard the turkey legs. Rub the bird with salt.

Pierce the apples (or quinces) with a fork and place them in the bird’s abdominal cavity. Transfer the bird to a casserole. Melt the butter and pour it over the turkey.

Brown for a few minutes on the stove top, then pour 3/4 cup/200 ml water into the pot (not over the turkey) and roast in a preheated oven at 400 °F/200 °C until cooked. Finish off by basting the bird regularly with the roasting juices, so that it is crisp and golden brown.

After around 2 1/2 hours remove the turkey from the oven. Let it rest for 15 minutes before carving and serving. Pour the remaining juices from the casserole into a small pan, stir in the tomato paste, and reheat.

Pour in the wine and 1 1/4 cups/300 ml of water. Season with salt and bring to the boil. Serve the sauce hot in a gravy boat. The Christmas turkey is accompanied by rice with mushrooms, creamed potato and stewed apples and plums.

Párolt alma (Stewed apples)

21/4 lbs/1 kg cooking apples
3 1/2 tbsp/50 g butter
Pinch of cinnamon

Peel and core the apples. Cut them into thin strips and. gently stew in the butter in a covered pan. Do not stir the apples simply shake the pan from time to time.

Sprinkle immediately with cinnamon and serve hot. Fresh or frozen, pitted plums can be used equally well in this recipe.

Source: It's Hungarian

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