Hortobágy. The largest natural grassland in Europe. The horizon cuts the boundary between land and sky like a quick slash of a razor blade, only to be disrupted by an occasional herd of Hungarian grey cattle grazing in loose groups far, far away. Hortobágy. The name is synonymous with flatness. It is, indeed, as flat as the pancakes we were abut to roll up last afternoon to create the dish that originates from the wast expanse after which it was named.
Hortobágy meat pancakes are one of our favourite national dishes. They consist of large, thin pancakes filled with meat stew, rolled up and poured on top with a meat stock and sour cream sauce.
Ingredients for the ragú and sauce
- 0,5 kg beef mince
- 300 g sour cream
- 1 large onion
- 4 garlic cloves
- 1 green pepper
- 1 tomato
- 1 heaping tbsp ground paprika (sweet)
- 1 tbsp ground cumin
- freshly ground black pepper to taste
- salt to taste
- cooking oil
Ingredients for the pancakes
- 400 g white flour
- 0,8 l milk
- 4 eggs
- 1/4 coffee spoon sodium bicarbonate
- 1 teaspoon salt
- cooking oil
First we prepared the batter for the pancakes. We mixed the flour, eggs, milk and sodium bicarbonate in a large bowl and mixed them until smooth with a food mixer. We made sure there were no more knots or solid stuff stuck to the side of the bowl and then left it to rest for half an hour.
Meanwhile, we finely chopped the onion and cut the green pepper and tomato into small cubes. We heated a little bit of oil in a pan and dropped on the finely chopped onion. We added a hint of salt and with occasional stirring we fried it until it was getting caramelised. At this point we took it off the heat and added a heaping tablespoon of Hungarian ground sweet paprika (because honestly it is the best we know), mixed it thoroughly with the caramelised onion and put it back on very low heat for just a minute with constant stirring. If you are not careful the paprika will easily burn, become bitter and you have to start over. We dropped the chopped pepper, tomato and 4 cloves of crushed garlic on it, mixed it and let them soften and let out some of their juice.
At this point we transferred the onion/paprika mix into a larger pan because the first one turned out to be too small for the ragú. Then we added in the beef mince, mixed it with the onion/paprika, and fried until it was brown. We quickly ground some black pepper on top then added enough water to cover the meat. Once we managed to bring the water to a boil, we turned the heat down so it was just barely boiling and cooked it like that for 20-30 minutes, gradually adding in the ground cumin, salt, and as needed, more black pepper and sweet paprika until the taste was perfect. We made sure there is always plenty of juice around the meat, adding in more water when necessary. The juice was needed later so we made sure there is plenty of it in the end. When the meat cooked, we took it off the heat, removed it from the juice with a straining spoon, put both aside and moved onto the pancakes. We heated a little oil in a large pan, really heated it up, and slowly poured a ladle of batter in the middle while constantly rotating the pan to distribute it evenly. Hungarian pancakes are not as thick as they western counterparts, only a few millimeters thick (4-5 mm maximum), but they are large, about 25 cm. At high heat, this thin layer of batter solidifies almost instantly, and you usually don’t need more than 1/2 minutes per side, 1 minutes maximum. You turn it once, leave the other side to solidify a bit, usually shorter then the first side, then pile them on top of each other.
By the time all the batter was used up we had about 12 healthy pancakes waiting for the filling. We had no intention of making them wait any longer. We quickly took the first one, put a few heaping spoonful of ragú flat on the middle, leaving about 5 centimeters clear around the rim of the pancakes. We folded up the edges from four directions, forming a square, then folded it like a tri-fold brochure, aiming for a flat rather than a round shape. Unsuccessfully, by the way, because we were not willing to use less than a massive amount of meat in the filling. Once all the pancakes were nicely rolled up we mixed the remaining juice with the sour cream, some more paprika and 3-4 tablespoons of flour (we used an egg-beater to remove the knots), then poured it generously on top of the rolled-up pancakes. We decorated them with some curly leaf parsley and served on rectangular white plates. We felt like in a fancy restaurant! During the cooking we wanted to listen to something melodic yet powerful. The perfect solution came from Gothenburg, Sweden. Soilwork’s Figure Number Five album is one of the best albums in this genre. Essentially all of its songs would deserve five stars rating. Meanwhile the new album of another great Gothenburg band, In Flames, which is going to be released in September, got the first promo track, titled Rusted Nail. So here it is, enjoy it least as much as we did!