I spent a year in Hungary and it was one heady, whirlwind, sensual stretch of time. The corner stands of dried peppers stopped me in my tracks so often that I would stand there looking like an idiot just taking whiffs of their earthy, pungent aromas. I got through my winter with a million steaming bowls of this hearty soup, and each version was as warming as the last. When I got home, I searched for recipes to replicate my experience. I tried so many versions that I picked up a few tricks along the way, but in the end, I created my own recipe that captures my taste memories of the long, cold Hungarian nights doubled down in drinking Egri Bikavér and uncovering the mysteries of late night conversation.
Preheat the oven to 325°F.
Cut your meat into 1 ½ -inch cubes, and sprinkle with salt & pepper. If your meat came on the bone, reserve it to cook with the soup.
Toast the caraway seeds over medium heat until the fragrance fills the kitchen and they turn a shade darker. Drain the red peppers, and dice fine. Now make a paste with the caraway, red peppers, paprika, garlic, tomato paste, and vinegar. You can do this by putting it all in the bowl of a food processor and pulsing for a few minutes. Or you can do this by putting it in a large mortar & pestle and pounding until it makes a paste. You can even just mince it all together until its mashed. Set aside to develop the flavor.
In a large Dutch oven, combine the oil (or bacon grease), onions, and a teaspoon of salt. Set over medium-low heat and watch carefully. These onions are not meant to take on color, but you’re slowly coaxing out their onion-ness to full effect. Stir occasionally and let it take its time. If you’re being patient enough, this should take a full 15-20 minutes.
Stir in your reserved pepper mixture. Cook until the mixture coats the onions completely and starts to drag on the bottom of the pot from becoming slightly sticky in the heat. Stir in the beef, carrots, parsnips, bay leaves, and water. Cover and transfer to the oven. Cook for 3 hours, lifting the lid to stir occasionally, until the meat is tender and flavorful and the house is filled with the aroma of hearty meat and pungent sweet peppers. When the soup gets close to the finish line, the smell is so intoxicating, you might just be seized by the desire to stay in this night to indulge in bowls of soup and thick glasses of wine and converse to the wee hours of night in this cozy spot you call home.
Stir in a tablespoon or two of sour cream, and serve with something starchy. Best is homemade csipetke if you have time. If not, egg noodles work just fine. Or potatoes. Savor with delight and gratitude.