Memories of Hungary

European Pantry in Welland brings back memories of historic Hungary

 Guest Blog by Sheona Della-Fort

The lure of breathtaking scenery, a chance to experience another culture and the warmth of the friendly Canucks were the reasons that drew me to leave England to study in Canada. Settling into Welland, located in the Niagara Peninsula was not particularly difficult and I adjusted well to the wintry conditions.

It was on one of those frosty mornings that I discovered by chance the European Pantry. I first thought it was a quaint house,DSCF9274 but on entering the store discovered it to hold a bewildering array of cheeses, smoked meats, chocolates and spices.  Remember the time you walked into Grandma’s house and she had spent the day baking and preparing treats for you? The warmth of the store enveloped me and the colourful array of goods begged me to touch, taste and smell.

I spied some Hungarian paprika on a shelf and immediately a flood of memories came back to me of when I last visited Budapest.  I remember visiting Szentendre, a DSCF9304charming town near to Budapest and seeing shops selling paprika in its various forms. I have come to the conclusion that there is nothing like authentic Hungarian paprika in your Goulash with lashings of soured cream.

Another memory of handcrafted table linen slipped into my mind.  Handcrafted linen is a dying art these days in our technology focused world. I remember one Hungarian lady displaying her wares. There was something so sweet in her stature. Though she had hands gnarled with years of59124_1616205210915_7658038_n hard work, she proudly displayed a tablecloth with an intricate pattern of flowers.  A truly beautiful lady.

Anna and Richard, my Hungarian friends also introduced me to Langos – a dreamy dish of fried dough topped with cheese.  Highly calorific but well worth it. They handed me a shot of Palinka or firewater to wash it down; a fruit based brandy to add to my Hungarian experience.

Walking along the Danube River at night is an experience not to be missed; the skyline is dotted with landmarks of historic buildings and is an impressive sight to behold.  The sounds of busking musicians and the bustle of restaurants getting ready for the nightly trade filled my senses.  A moment in my life when time stood still.

Back to the real world. Jacqui the owner of The European Pantry breaks into my DSCF9279reverie and offers me a sampling of cheese and introduces me to the delights of marzipan chocolate.  Will I be coming back? Yes, of course when I need my European fix!




Balkan Chili

IMG_4030We tend to associate chili with TexMex but beans are equally at home in other cultures. Essentially chili is a bean stew. Balcan ingredients lend themselves to great chili….hot or mild.

Chili is a great dish for novice cooks.  Ingredients are basic: beans, veggies, seasonings and optional meat.

IMG_4042Beans: I avoid the typical kidney beans because there are other beans that are so much easier to digest.  I use romano beans or Dutch “Bruinebonen” which both have soft skins but fill the spoon like kidney beans.

Veggies:  Tomatoes are a must but onions, green and red peppers, mushrooms, kernel corn, celery, or any combination are all okay. I cut my veggies in big chunks and saute them before adding them to the rest of the ingredients.IMG_4041 My secret ingredient is “Zacusca”. This is a Balcan relish made from baked eggplant, onions peppers and tomatos. I sometimes “cheat” and throw in a small jar of chunky salsa. In our family that means mild salsa but like everything in chili, that’s negotiable!

Seasonings: Most people usually reach for chili powder. Nothing wrong with that but there are many other options, too.  If you want a Balkan chili then Hungarian paprika should be your ‘go to’ choice.  Hungarian paprika comes sweet or hot.  IMG_4039What I love about the sweet is that you can really up the flavour without going too hot. Then you can add some hot paprika for just the right amount of heat.  The most important thing to know here is that not all Hungarian paprikas are equal.  Most grocery store grade lacks in freshness.  Here at the European Pantry we put a few packages on the shelf and the rest is kept in a fridge for optimum flavour. You can tell the difference just by smelling it. You can also boost flavour by using paprika paste: Piros Arany or goulash creme: GulyaskremCsipos mean HOT. Csemege means sweet…not sweet as in sugary. Just not hotIMG_4044

IMG_4043Do some like it hot in your household and others mild? Make your chili on the mild side and then put hot pepper condiment on the table. Eros Pista is a ground hot pepper condiment from Hungary.  Edes Anna is the milder form.

Meat:  Chili can be a great vegetarian meal. Serve it with a wholegrain bread and you will have a full protein.  If someone is going to ask: Where”s The Meat? you have a number of options.  You can saute ground meat with your veggies or you can use stewing meat. This is the ingredient that benefits from slow cooking for tenderness and full flavour absorption. But you can also use leftover meat and then chili can be a quick after work throw together meal. Nevertheless, a few hours at least in a slow cooker melds the flavours.

It’s hard to go wrong with chili but here are a few hints that will guarantee success.

  • If you are using fresh tomatoes be sure to simmer them for a while to evaporate some of the moisture.  I love using fresh garden ingredients but canned tomato chunks are a real timesaver on this step.
  • If your chili is too watery, add some tomato paste…or thicken it with some cornstarch.  Remember though you have to dissolve your cornstarch into fluid  before adding it to the hot ingredients.  Take a bit of the fluid out, let it stand to cool or add just a bit of cold water.  Two tablespoons of cornstarch will thicken a cup of fluid to gravy style consistency. The actual fluid in your chili mightn’t  actually measure to very much so  add any thickener incrementally.
  • If you don’t have a slow cooker make sure you don’t simmer your chili on too high a temperature…you don’t want your chunky ingredients to become mush. If it is cooler weather, slip your dish into a 200 degree oven for several hours to let the flavours mingle and blend.

Add a fresh salad, buns or bread and you can pretend you are eating on the slopes of the Mecsek mountains!