Hungarian Christmas Eve dinner

Last year, catapulted into Tier 4 and confined to London for Christmas, we had to fend for ourselves for the first time ever on Christmas Eve. Granny came to the rescue with this guest blog post, now recorded for posterity so that you will be able to carry on a vital family tradition. Baby Jesus, sparklers and Mennyből az Angyal are also obligatory.

From Granny:

These dishes have long been part of the repertoire, ever since Babú arrived in my unsuspecting Scottish/English family. It is based on the customary Christmas Eve meal eaten in what is now northern Slovakia, where Babú’s stepfather (Nagypapi) grew up. Touchingly, even after the family grew too large and my sister Jane and her family no longer spent Christmas with us, she continued to make this same meal on Christmas Eve. I hope in due course you will too. We always manage to make too much, but the soup freezes well and the cooked bobajka (also known in Hungarian as mákos guba) keep for up to six months in a plastic storage box in a cool larder. For the latter, we use the traditional recipe, based on a raised dough.

Cabbage soup (káposztaleves) 

Serves 6

Ingredients

1 large smoked ham hock
1 kg sauerkraut
Small pack dried ceps
A couple of bay leaves
1 pair Gyulai kolbász (dried paprika sausage, available online from various Hungarian delis) 
Sunflower oil or lard
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 tbs plain flour
2 tbs sweet paprika or a mixture of sweet and spicy (not smoked)
Salt and pepper
Soured cream

Method

Soak the hock overnight in cold water, changing the water a couple of times if you can. In the morning, soak the ceps in a bowl of warm water.

Put the hock in a large pan, cover with cold water, add the bay leaves, bring to the boil and simmer until the hock is completely tender (at least a couple of hours).

Remove the hock and put aside to cool; taste the cooking water for saltiness and remove the bay leaves. Remove the ceps and keep the soaking water.

Rinse the sauerkraut and add to the hock cooking water (discarding some of it if too salty and making up with fresh water.  Add the ceps, chopped a bit smaller if necessary, their soaking water, the ham hock torn into small pieces and the kolbász sliced into roughly 0.5 cm discs.

Sauter the chopped onion in the oil or lard; once soft, add the flour and the paprika, cook gently for a few minutes, then ladle in some of the soup to loosen. Tip the mixture back into the soup and simmer for another half an hour or so. Season as necessary and serve with soured cream either stirred in or separately.  If you anticipate leftovers, it’s better to keep the soured cream separate.

Bobajka (Mákos guba)

Serves 6

Ingredients
600g strong white flour
2 eggs
400ml milk
20g fresh yeast (or roughly 7g instant yeast)
60g butter (lard is more traditional)
60g caster sugar
A pinch of salt

To Serve
200g ground poppy seeds
200g caster sugar
600ml milk, warmed
Acacia honey

Method

Mix the yeast with 3 sugar cubes, 200ml warm milk and enough flour to make a starter dough. Leave to rise in a warm place.

Weigh out 600g flour into the bowl of the mixer, add the melted butter, the sugar, the salt, the yolks of the two eggs and the starter dough. Add enough warm milk to make a dough (not too soft and not too dry) and knead using the dough hook until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl.  Cover with a cloth and leave to rise in a warm place. Preheat the oven to 180 (fan).

Take pieces of the dough and on a floured surface, roll them into long, thin sausage shapes.

Bake on an ungreased baking tray until they are beginning to brown.  Note that they will continue to rise during baking, so take care to space them adequately.

Chop into roughly 2cm pieces and bake briefly again.  Traditionally this second baking is done in hot lard, but we dispense with those additional calories.

Serve with hot milk, honey (preferably acacia) and ground poppy seed mixed 50:50 with caster sugar. The debate about the correct order in which to add these rages on.

Pavlova wreath

This is a great pudding at any time of year (we had it once for Sam’s birthday in May), but ideal at Christmas because it’s eye-catching, wreath-shaped, feeds large numbers and can be made well ahead. Most fruits work well with it, so just use whatever’s in season. I first saw Mary Berry making it on television and you can watch an Australian YouTube demo here that includes mango and cherries (but no raspberries). You’ll be left with a lot of egg yolks after making this: a reason to make some proper custard, ice cream, mayonnaise or hollandaise sauce. The latter, of course, is an essential element of our Christmas Day Brunch.

Serves 10-12 

Ingredients

For the pavlova
6 large free-range egg whites
350g caster sugar
1 tsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp cornflour

For the filling

600ml double cream
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
50g icing sugar, sifted
200g strawberries, hulled and quartered
300g raspberries
200g blueberries
50g pomegranate seeds
a few mint leaves, to decorate
icing sugar, for dusting

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 160C/140C Fan. Line a large baking tray with baking parchment and draw a 30cm circle in the middle of the paper. Draw a 15cm circle in the centre of the larger circle to make a ring.
  2. Put the egg whites in a clean mixing bowl and whisk with an electric whisk until soft peaks form when the whisk is removed. Gradually add the sugar a little at a time, whisking on maximum speed until they are stiff and glossy. Mix the vinegar and cornflour in a cup until smooth, then stir into the egg whites.
  3. Spoon the meringue onto the ring drawn on the baking parchment. Using a large spoon make a shallow trench in the meringue for the cream and fruit to sit in.
  4. Transfer to the oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 140C/120C Fan. Bake for 1 hour 15 minutes, until the outside is hard but still white. Turn the oven off and leave the pavlova inside for an hour or overnight to cool and dry.
  5. To assemble, whip the cream, vanilla paste and icing sugar until stiff peaks form when the whisk is removed. Spoon the cream into the trench in the meringue. Arrange the fruit on top and decorate with a few mint leaves, if using. To serve, dust with icing sugar and cut into wedges.

Christmas stuffing

Christmas is the only time we ever deviate from our traditional Scottish oat stuffing. This sausagemeat one is packed with Christmas flavours and goes with turkey, goose, even roast beef (at a push). If you want to control the cooking time of your meat it’s probably best to cook the stuffing separately, shaped into individual balls.

Serves 8

Ingredients

120g dried cranberries or apricots (or a combination of both)
50ml port
1 small onion, chopped
2 rashers unsmoked streaky bacon, cut into strips
40g butter
2 cloves garlic, chopped
350g sausagemeat
60g fresh breadcrumbs
4 tbsp chopped herbs: parsley, thyme and sage
120g chestnuts, roughly chopped
1 egg, slightly beaten
Salt & pepper

Method

Soak the dried fruit in port for an hour. Fry onion and bacon in butter until soft. Add garlic, cool and mix with all the rest of the ingredients, adding enough egg to bind (you won’t need the whole egg if it’s a large one). Shape into balls and arrange on a foil-lined baking dish. Cook at 180 fan for 40 minutes until brown and a bit crispy.

Butternut, orange & sage galette

This one’s stretching the rules a bit again. Galettes have become quite trendy and I’ve only started making them recently. A galette is a single crust, free-form pie, which can be sweet or savoury – this eye-catching vegetarian one comes from Ottolenghi’s Flavour, published in 2020. We’ve eaten it twice and although the list of ingredients is long and it’s quite a faff to make (sorry, Ottolenghi), it gets wolfed down in minutes.

Serves 6

Ingredients

For the pastry
100g plain flour
30g wholemeal flour
20g polenta
1½ tsp caster sugar
¾ tsp flaky salt
1 tbsp sage leaves, finely chopped (about 6 leaves)
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
20ml olive oil
80g unsalted butter, fridge-cold and cut into 1½cm cubes
60ml ice-cold water

For the filling
1 small butternut squash, skin on, deseeded and cut into 1 cm-thick, skin-on half-moons (600g)
2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1cm rounds
2 tbsp olive oil, plus extra to finish
2 tbsp finely chopped sage leaves, plus 3 whole, to garnish
2 tsp caraway seeds, toasted and crushed
Flaky salt and black pepper
1 head garlic, top fifth cut off to expose the bulbs
1 banana shallot, skin on, top trimmed to expose the flesh
2-3 oranges, zest finely grated, to get 1½ tsp, then juice to get 160ml
50ml maple syrup
125g mascarpone
1 small egg, beaten

Method

Pre-heat the oven to 240C (220C fan). 

For the pastry, mix the first eight ingredients together in a large bowl. Add the butter and incorporate into the flour, squashing each cube between your fingers – don’t over-work it, though: you want chunks throughout the dough. Add the water, stir to combine, then use your hands to gather the dough together – it will be quite sticky.

Transfer to a very well-floured work surface and roll into a 28cm x 18cm rectangle, flouring the rolling pin, surface and pastry as you go. Fold the longer ends in towards each other, so they meet in the middle, then roll out once. Now fold in the shorter ends to meet in the middle, roll out once more, then fold in half, so you end up with a square. Use your hands to stretch the dough into a 14cm circle, then wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

While the dough is chilling, toss the squash and carrots in the oil, a tablespoon of chopped sage, the caraway, a teaspoon of salt and plenty of pepper. Spread out on two large oven trays lined with baking paper; don’t worry if there is some overlap. Drizzle the garlic and shallot with a little oil, wrap both separately in foil, and add to the trays.

Roast the butternut and carrots for 25 minutes, or until golden brown, then remove from the oven. Leave the garlic and shallot to roast for 15 minutes more, then remove and, once cool enough to handle, squeeze out the flesh and finely chop.

Turn down the oven to 220C (200C fan). Transfer the dough to a well-floured surface and roll out into a 30cm circle, dusting the rolling pin as you go. Gently lift the dough onto a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper and refrigerate for another 30 minutes.

Put the orange juice and maple syrup in a medium saucepan on a medium-high heat and cook for about 10 minutes, or until it reduces to the consistency of a thick, sticky syrup.

In a small bowl, mix the mascarpone with the chopped roast garlic and shallot, the orange zest and remaining chopped sage. Season with a pinch of salt and plenty of pepper, and stir again to combine.

Spread the mascarpone mixture over the dough, leaving a 4cm border around the edge. Cover the mascarpone with the squash and carrot, then drizzle over the orange caramel.

Fold the edges of the pastry up and over the filling, brush the exposed pastry with the egg, then bake for 30 minutes, until golden brown. Leave to cool for 20 minutes, then serve with the remaining sage leaves and serve.

Meringue roulade

We’re approaching the end of the two-year publishing period earmarked for this blog back in January 2020. Reviewing the collection, I find relatively few pudding recipes, so here’s a trusted favourite to redress the balance. The source is Darina Allen’s excellent Ballymaloe Cookery Course book, a present from Grandma in 2007 which has proved to be both instructive and inspirational. This version is filled with mango and served with a passionfruit sauce, but you can use any seasonal fruits of your choice and serve with a complementary sauce, such as a raspberry coulis

Serves 8-10

Ingredients

Meringue
4 large egg whites
225g caster sugar

Mango and passion fruit sauce
1 large ripe mango
4 passion fruit
1-2 tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice
1-2 tbsp caster sugar

Filling
1 large ripe mango, peeled and thinly sliced
2 passion fruit
425-600 ml whipped cream (use double or whipping cream and be careful not to over-whip)

You will also need a swiss roll tin 32 x 20 cm lined with tin foil and brushed with non-scented vegetable oil.

Method

Preheat the oven to 160 (fan).

Ballymaloe’s ‘Break all the Rules’ method for making meringue is to put everything into a spanking clean bowl together, rather than adding the sugar gradually. Using a stand mixer or a hand whisk, break up the egg whites and then add the sugar in one go. Whisk at full speed until the mixture forms stiff, dry peaks. Spread the meringue gently over the tin with a palette knife: it should be quite thick and bouncy. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes. Put a sheet of tin foil on the work top and turn the roulade onto it. Remove the base foil and allow the meringue to cool.

Meanwhile, make the mango and passion fruit sauce: peel the mango, chop the flesh and purée in a food processor. Transfer to a bowl or jug, add the passion fruit seeds and juice, freshly squeezed lime juice and sugar to taste. Cover and chill. Separately, slice the mango for the filling and mix gently with the passion fruit seeds and juice. 

To assemble the roulade, turn the meringue onto a sheet of baking paper dredged with icing sugar. Spread two-thirds of the cream over the roulade, cover with a layer of fruit (reserving some for decoration). Hold your breath and roll it all up like a swiss roll.

Transfer to a serving dish. If you feel inclined to, pipe some rosettes of cream on the top, decorate with some of the reserved fruit, dredge with icing sugar and serve with the sauce.

Raspberry coulis

This is so simple that it hardly warrants a whole post. Whizz one up if you want to add zing and a pop of colour to all sorts of puddings: chocolate roulade, meringues with fruit and cream, even a lemon tart.

Ingredients
400g raspberries
1 tbsp lemon juice
3 tbsp icing sugar

Method

Put all the ingredients in a small food processor or use a stick blender to blitz until very smooth.

Set a sieve over a jug or a bowl. Tip the mixture into the sieve and stir / push through the liquid using a spoon or a spatula. Discard the seedy pulp left in the sieve. Decant to a jug and serve. Any leftovers will keep in the fridge for a couple of days.

Chilli con carne

Here is a proper recipe for chilli con carne: ‘proper’ not necessarily because it’s authentic but because it takes time, uses good quality ingredients and avoids the convenient shortcuts (tinned beans, minced meat) that make chilli such a popular meal with students. You need to plan ahead, soaking the beans overnight and setting aside enough time to chop the meat by hand. My recipe for both the chilli and the avocado salsa – a contrasting cold garnish added at the end – are based on Delia Smith’s version in her Winter Collection (1995).

Serves 6 

Ingredients

500g braising steak, cut into very small pieces
250g black beans
40g fresh coriander (leaves reserved for salsa)
4 tbsp olive oil
2 large onions
2 garlic cloves, minced or crushed
2 large green chillies
1 tbsp plain flour
2 tins chopped tomatoes + ½ tin water
2 large red peppers
1 lime, juiced
Salt

For the salsa

3 large, firm tomatoes
2 ripe, firm avocadoes
1 small red onion, finely chopped
Reserved chopped coriander leaves
1 lime, juiced
1 red chilli, finely chopped
A few drops of Tabasco sauce
Salt and pepper

To serve

6 tbsp crème fraîche

You will also need a large oven-proof casserole with a lid.

Method

Cover the beans with water and soak them overnight. When you’re ready to start cooking, pre-heat the oven to 140 fan.

Strip the leaves off the coriander stalks and set aside. Chop the stalks very finely. Heat 2 tbsp oil in the casserole and cook the onions, garlic, coriander stalks and chillies gently for about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate, add the rest of the oil to the casserole, turn the heat up high and brown the meat in two or three batches. Return everything to the casserole and sprinkle in the flour, stir it in to soak up the juices, then add the drained beans, followed by the tomatoes + water. Stir well and bring up to simmering point. Don’t add any salt at this stage (it prevents the beans from softening) – just put the lid on and transfer the casserole to the oven to cook for an initial 1½ hours.

Towards the end of that time, de-seed and chop the peppers into smallish pieces. Stir into the meat and beans and return it all to the oven for a further 30 minutes’ cooking.

To make the salsa: skin the tomatoes by pouring boiling water over them, leaving for 1 minute and then slipping off the skins. Halve each tomato, extract and discard the seeds, then chop the flesh finely. Chop the avocados into very small dice and do the same with the onion. Combine everything together, along with your finely-chopped red chilli, in a bowl, adding seasoning, lime juice (to taste), half the chopped coriander and a few drops of Tabasco.

Before serving the chilli, add salt to taste. Stir in the rest of the coriander leaves and lime juice. Serve with rice, salsa and crème fraîche.

Pörkölt

The Hungarian word pörkölt simply means ‘roasted’ but it has evolved to refer to a meat stew, which in most parts of Hungary is made with beef or pork, with or without the addition of vegetables. Our family version, consisting of pork and mushrooms, is very much my own invention but nonetheless redolent of Hungary. Cheap and filling, it can be made in a slow cooker, or on the hob or in the oven and is a useful vehicle for using up leftover red wine. For a delicious vegetarian alternative, use a variety of mushrooms instead of the meat and bingo, you have a gombapörkölt.

Serves 6

Ingredients

900g lean diced pork
300g mushrooms, quartered
2 medium onions, finely chopped
2 tbsp vegetable, sunflower or groundnut oil
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped or minced
187ml small bottle red wine
200ml vegetable stock or water
1 tbsp flour
1 tsp paprika (csipős (spicy) or csemege (mild) according to preference)
2 tbsp piros arany (ditto)
½ tsp salt and a good grind of pepper
A small pot of soured cream

Method

Preheat the oven to 140 fan.

Heat the oil in a casserole pan for which you have a lid, then cook the onions for about 10 minutes, adding the garlic towards the end. Raise the heat, add all the meat and cook, stirring, until all the surfaces of the meat have turned opaque. Now add the mushrooms and cook, stirring, for another 5 minutes. Sprinkle in the flour, paprika, salt and pepper, add the piros arany and stir until everything is well coated and looking quite orange. (Note: go easy on the salt if you’re using piros arany, which is quite salty already.) Pour in the wine and stock or water and bring to a simmer. There may not look like a lot of liquid at this stage but the mushrooms will release water and you’ll be adding soured cream at the end. Put the lid on the pan and cook in the oven for about an hour and a half, or until the pork is really tender. In the meantime, make your cucumber salad (see below) and cook some rice.

Just before serving, stir in the soured cream. There’s no need to reheat.


Cucumber salad

Serves 8

Ingredients

2 large cucumbers
1-2 tsp salt
50 ml white wine vinegar
100 ml water
1 tbsp sugar
1-2 tbsp dill, chopped
½ tsp paprika
Soured cream or crème fraiche

Method

Peel the cucumbers and slice thinly (a mandolin or the slicing attachment of a food processor will speed this up).  Place cucumber slices in a colander, add salt, stir and leave to disgorge juices for an hour (ideally, but 30 mins will do).

Dissolve the sugar in a little boiling water, then add vinegar and taste: add more sugar if necessary; top up with cold water; chill.

Rinse the cucumber slices and transfer to a shallow serving bowl. Pour over the dressing and plop a little soured cream / crème fraiche in the middle. Sprinkle over paprika and chopped dill

Cheesy Leeks

This is so basic that it hardly warrants a whole post to itself, but no collection of family favourites would be complete without it. Cheesy leeks were created out of a need to disguise the vegetables accompanying Sunday roasts when you were small and fussy fussier. Cauliflower was never on the cards, that excellent vegetable having been ruined for your father by over-zealous boiling in the 1970s. So leeks it had to be: cheap, green and rendered palatable by a cheesy white sauce.

Serves 6 as a side

Ingredients

3 large leeks, trimmed, washed and cut into 5cm cylinders
25g butter
1 heaped tbsp flour
½ tsp mustard powder
250 ml milk
Salt, pepper & nutmeg
100g cheddar (or other strongly-flavoured hard cheese), grated coarsely
2 tbsp breadcrumbs (optional)

Method

Preheat the oven to 180 (fan), or just use the temperature at which you’re already cooking your roast. 

Arrange the leek cylinders standing upright in a steamer basket and steam for five minutes. If you don’t have a steamer, then you can just boil them instead but make sure you drain them thoroughly.

In a small pan make a roux: melt the butter, then turn up the heat and add the flour and the mustard powder. Whisk until the mixture becomes paler (do not allow to brown), then add the milk. Whisk vigorously and simmer for 8-10 minutes until it is thick and no longer tastes of flour. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg, then turn off the heat and stir in two-thirds of the cheese.

Butter an oven-proof dish and arrange the leeks in it, lying on their sides. Pour over the cheesy sauce, then sprinkle over the breadcrumbs and finally the rest of the grated cheese. Bake in the oven for 25 minutes until brown on top.

Note: this is very versatile. You can cook it at a lower / higher temperature for longer / less time, and you can even grill it last minute if you don’t have room in the oven, although in that case I’d advise steaming the leeks for a couple of minutes longer to ensure that they’re soft enough to eat.

Crab mac ‘n’ cheese

In the book she published last year (Cook, Eat, Repeat) Nigella rails against “the insidious encroachment of the American appellation of mac ‘n’ cheese over here”, but then admits defeat and offers this take on an opulent, defiantly American pasta dish. We’ve eaten it twice, most memorably for lunch on Christmas Eve 2020, the plague year when Christmas was cancelled and we had to massage the rules in order to gather à six. Rich and comforting, it is elevated nursery food that should, in my opinion, be eaten in winter, en famille, with a green salad to offset the decadence.

Serves 4 generously

Ingredients

200g Gruyère, grated
2 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan
2 tbsp plain flour
½ tsp ground mace
½ tsp smoked paprika
¼ tsp Aleppo pepper, or hot smoked paprika, plus more to sprinkle at the end
500ml full fat milk
2 tbsp tomato purée
60g unsalted butter
400g conchiglie rigate pasta
200g mixed white and brown crabmeat (50/50)

Method

Combine the grated cheeses in a bowl. Mix the flour with the spices in a small cup. Pour the milk into a measuring jug and stir in the two tablespoons of tomato purée. Put a pan of water on to boil for the pasta.

In a heavy-based saucepan that will be large enough to hold all the pasta + sauce later,, melt the butter over a lowish heat, then peel and mince or grate in the garlic and stir it around in the pan quickly. Turn the heat up to medium and add the flour and spices. Whisk over the heat until it all coheres into an orange, fragrant, loose paste; this will take no longer than a minute. Take off the heat and very gradually whisk in the tomatoey milk, until it’s completely smooth. 

Put back on the heat, turn up to medium and cook, stirring, until it has thickened and lost any taste of flouriness; this will take up to 5 minutes. Stir in the Worcestershire sauce.

Take the pan off the heat and stir in the grated cheeses. Put a lid on the saucepan, or cover tightly with foil, and leave on the hob, but with the heat off, while you get on with the pasta.
Add salt to the boiling water in the pasta pan, then add the pasta and cook according to the packet instructions, though start checking it a couple of minutes earlier.

When the pasta is just about al dente, add the crabmeat to the smoky cheese sauce, then once you’re happy that the pasta shells are ready, drain them, reserving some pasta-cooking liquid first, and drop the shells in. Stir over lowish heat until the crabmeat is hot. If you want to make the sauce any more fluid, add as much of the pasta-cooking water as you need. Taste to see if you want to add salt.

Serve sprinkled with Aleppo pepper or hot smoked paprika.