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Preserving a Grandmother’s Hungary

Preserving a Grandmother’s Hungary

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Shared by Jeremy Salamon
Recipe Roots: Budapest > Vienna > New York City > Boca Raton, FL > New York City

“If we didn’t have palacsinta, there was a serious crisis in the family,” says Jeremy Salamon, the 24-year-old chef of New York restaurant The Eddy. Growing up in Boca Raton, Jeremy’s grandmother Agi always served the Hungarian dessert of crepes rolled into logs, tucking in cinnamon and sugar, dried fruits, or sour cream and nuts, or, when he and his brother were little, Yoo-hoo chocolate syrup.

Agi put out the dessert on her long, white tablecloth with her floral china at family dinners. And, “when my parents would go out for a date night they’d drop us off at my grandparents’ house…. She’d put out a huge dessert display for me and my brother….two different kinds of babka, Entenmann's,” and, of course, palacsinta, Jeremy says. “She was playing up the grandma card hardcore.”

Despite their close relationship, Jeremy says he rarely spent time with Agi in the kitchen. “Once in a blue moon, I would help her make the batter or roll [the palascinta]....She’s a very proud, stubborn woman,” who has never accepted help in the kitchen. But it was more than Agi’s pride that kept Jeremy from her kitchen.  

When Jeremy was 9-years-old, he told his mother he wanted to be a chef. “Just like any mother, she was like ‘Oh sure, you want to be president or an astronaut,” Jeremy recalls. “But I didn’t have any interest in my Hungarian heritage,” until he was older.

 Agi Salamon in Hungary, mid 1940’s.

Agi Salamon in Hungary, mid 1940’s.

Jeremy’s family roots trace back to Hungary through Agi who lived in the Budapest ghetto through World War II and left during the Hungarian Revolution in 1956, escaping to Vienna with the help of the underground and ultimately making her way to New York.

When Jeremy turned 16, he started to take an interest in Agi’s cooking and recipes, not just her palascinta but chicken paprikas and fresh pasta called nokedli. For Agi, though, the recipes and painful stories of life in Europe seem to be intertwined. “I had to pry it out of her,” he says. He would call Agi and nudge her over and over for the recipes. In college, Jeremy decided to cook a Hungarian meal for friends. He stopped by The Strand bookstore in New York and purchased the only Hungarian cookbook they had, George Lang’s The Cuisine of Hungary.

That cookbook ultimately led to a pop-up celebrating Hungarian food. “Going through this book, I just realized that people had this misconception of what Hungarian food used to be and I wanted to bring it back in a way that was approachable and colorful for a new generation,” Jeremy explains.  

As his interest deepened, Jeremy traveled to Budapest, spending the summer with cousins and researching Hungarian food. But it was Agi’s recipes that he’s always looking for. On one trip to visit her in Florida, he waited with a friend for Agi to excuse herself from the room so the two could search for a collection of recipes. “I found it in a drawer under the cognac cabinet. I pulled out a folder of all of these newspaper recipes and clippings,” he says, adding that he later told Agi about it.

A few pop-ups later, he is now serving his version of a handful of Agi’s recipes at The Eddy. For Jeremy, his cooking isn’t about recreating what’s served in Hungary today. His aim, he says, is “to help preserve my grandmother’s Hungary. There isn’t a voice for that and there won’t be when she’s gone, so I feel a responsibility to make sure that’s around.”

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Chicken Paprikas

Serves: 4-6
Time: 1 hour

Ingredients
1 (4-lb.) chicken, cut into 6–8 pieces
½ cup + 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1-16 oz. can plum tomatoes
1 large yellow onion, julienned
2 tablespoons Hungarian sweet paprika
1 ½ cups chicken stock
¾ cup sour cream
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Preparation
1. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Coat the chicken in flour; patting off excess.

2. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Working in batches, brown each chicken piece about 3-4 minutes per side and transfer to a plate.

4. Add the red bell pepper, tomatoes, onion and paprika to the pot; cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are translucent, about 5 minutes.

5. Add the chicken back to the pot along with the broth and bring to a boil.

6. Reduce heat to a simmer and cover, turning the chicken once, until fully cooked, 12–15 minutes.

7. In a small bowl, whisk together 2 tablespoons of flour with the sour cream; carefully measure ¾ cup of sauce from the pot and whisk into the sour cream and flour mixture to combine.

8. Stir the sour cream mixture into the pot with the chicken and toss to combine.

9. Serve immediately with nokedli.

Nokedli

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Serves: 4-6
Time: 25 minutes + 1 hour resting time

Ingredients
1 ½ cups (250g) semolina flour
2 ½ tablespoons (25g) all purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
4 eggs
⅓ cup + 1 ½ tablespoons (100 ml) water
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Preparation
1. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs and water together until combined.

2. In a separate bowl, combine the flour and salt, making sure there are no lumps.

3. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in half of the egg mixture. Gently stir to mix, then slowly add the remaining egg and mix until just combined (be careful not to over mix). Let the dough rest for 1 hour.

4. To cook the nokedli, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. If you don’t have a nokedli or spaetzle press, you can use a colander. Rub the press or colander with a little oil so the dough doesn’t stick. Rest your press over the water and press the batter through working in batches until all the dough has been used.

5. Using a slotted spoon, remove the nokedli from the water as soon as they begin to float.

6. Add your nokedli to a pan of melted butter and toss before serving.

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Agi's Palacsinta

Makes: 12
Time: 30 minutes + 30 minutes resting time

Ingredients
2 large eggs
1 cup milk, divided
1 cup all purpose flour
¼  teaspoon fine salt
¼  teaspoon vanilla extract
A splash of seltzer
Clarified butter for coating pan*

Traditional fillings:
Candied Nuts
Apricot Jam
Cinnamon Sugar
Dried Fruits
Chestnut Puree
Sour Cream and/or Whip Cream)

Preparation
1. In a medium bowl, beat the eggs together. Add ⅓ of the milk and the flour and beat until combined (the thick consistency will help eliminate lumps). Add the remaining milk, salt, and vanilla and whisk to combine. Let sit for 30 minutes, then loosen the batter with a splash of seltzer, just before cooking.

2. Heat a small nonstick or well-seasoned cast iron skillet over medium heat. Lightly grease with clarified butter, using a paper towel to wipe out the excess. Hold the pan's handle in one hand and pour in 3 to 4 tablespoons of the batter, swirling and tilting pan to spread batter in a thin, even layer to coat the bottom.

3. Let cook until top begins to dry. Using a thin spatula, lift one edge of crepe. Grab that edge with your fingers and flip. Cook on the second side for 10 seconds, then transfer to a plate. Repeat with remaining batter.

4. Fill the crepes with desired fillings and roll into logs. Finish with a dollop of sour cream and/or whip cream.

*Clarified butter is also known as ghee and can be found in some grocery stores. If you don’t have clarified butter you can make your own or use regular unsalted butter, but be sure to monitor the heat closely so the butter doesn’t brown or burn.

 Photos by Penny De Los Santos

Photos by Penny De Los Santos

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