Next to experimenting with new flavor pairings and techniques, thinking about classic dishes and transforming them into new and more interesting forms is my biggest passion in cooking. Sometimes I start meditating about a classic dish, its ingredients, the involved techniques and the possibilities behind them. The ideas pop up and evolve during this creative process. Some other times I keep thinking and enhancing distinct single ideas, which I quite suddenly assemble into a new dish or a reinterpretation of a classic. This time I combined several ideas and applied it to a Hungarian classic: the lecho (orignally: lecsó). Traditionally lecsó is a mix of onions, long bell peppers and onions simmered similarly to a stew and served either immediately or stored in glasses for the forthcoming winter. Sometimes lecsó is enhanced with garlic, Hungarian sausage (kolbász), sweet paprika powder or lard. Lecsó is usually served mixed with rice or eggs, or it can be eaten simply with a few slices of bread. I prefer the version with rice and – very nontraditionally – a lot of cinnamon, which works especially well with chorizo-like sausages.
You might ask now: why to serve a lecsó in form of a sushi? Well, I figured out how to make endless variations of nori algae sheet substitutes (the sheets you wrap your sushi into), how the texture of tomatoes and peppers can resemble soft fish meat and how to replace the wasabi by another traditional Hungarian ingredient. With the combination of the ideas described below, serving a sushi with lecsó flavor surely will make sense to you as well. So read on below for the birth story of the Lechosushi.
Ratatouille consists of a well-known pairing of zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, bell peppers, onions and herbs. All these ingredients reach their peak in August and each one of them resembles the pure taste of summer. Unfortunately when prepared as a ratatouille, the classic vegetables lose both their vivid color spectrum as well as their distinct textures. For this dish I wanted each and every ingredient to stand for its own with it’s unique taste, color and texture. Of course in the final result the flavors didn’t melt together as in a classic ratatouille. But served in this decomposed way, many different combinations of the vegetables can be discovered and enjoyed.
Last year in December a friend of mine, Anna called for a “vegastromania month“, where she invited everyone to cook at least one vegetarian or even vegan meal during the Christmas preparations. The main goal of this project was to make people think about vegetarian dishes and what they are eating everyday – which is usually far too much meat. The participants were allowed to submit any kind of recipe except for desserts, because they are mostly naturally vegetarian, less healthy and we already have more than enough of sweet recipes. Anna also assembled some famous Hungarian vegetarians, who picked their favorite recipe. The winner was invited to a very special vegetarian dinner at Anna’s home and also recieved a voucher for an ayurvedic massage. Fortunately, I got picked by the jury, so this January I had a wonderful dinner with Anna, Ági and Noémi. One of the dishes Anna served at this dinner was Mrs. Myrtleberry’s nutcake, which was quite an extraordinary and surprising experience. First, it’s absolutely delicious. But its texture was even more interesting, because it tasted just like minced meat – although there was no meat in the cake at all.
If you plan to make a terrine say for 4 guests, you’ll always have to deal with leftovers due to form sizes and minimum amounts from which upwards terrines make sense. For example from this tomato terrine you can cut 14 to 16 slices, much more than you need for the twisted caprese. Leftovers, or generally food should never be wasted, so here’s another idea for an appetizer with the tomato terrine.
August and the first weeks of September are the best time for incredibly flavorful local tomatoes. During the season you can find a wide selection of sizes, colors and shapes at the local market, which irresistibly invite you to explore the wide variety. Tomatoes are very versatile: you can broil, roast, grill, stew, fry, dry or simply use them raw e.g. in a salad. One of the most famous and popular salads with tomatoes is probably the Italian Caprese consisting of fresh tomatoes, mozzarella (from buffalo milk), basil, some olive oil and balsamic vinegar. In my version here I integrated the idea of a tomato terrine inspired by a recipe of Tanja Grandits. In her cookbook she called it tomato cassata and used some vanilla too, which I skipped. Instead of red tomato juice I pureed and sieved yellow tomatoes, which added a nice and vibrant color to the final dish.
Steak tartare appears quite often on menus in Hungarian restaurants. Usually the beef loin is matured covered in oil and some spices and herbs. This is a necessary step – unfortunately meat is not allowed to be aged long enough because of regulations of the health department. The beef is then minced using a grinder to order and usually served already mixed with spices, onions, garlic, an egg yolk and toast. This is the classic version you get in Hungary, but nowadays more elaborate tartares start to show up. Recently, I had a steak tartare at the Winekitchen, where the beef was finely chopped to order (by hand!) and served with fresh warm bread and mayonnaise made of pumpkin seed oil. It inspired me to create my own summer version of steak tartare.