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The Most Essential Hungarian New Year’s Food: Lentil Stew – With Recipe!

Adrienn Vass 2020.12.28.

Almost every country has its own New Year’s food and traditions, and almost all of it is about the same thing: to achieve enrichment and completeness in the new year with its consumption. In Hungary, people usually eat lentils on the first day of the year, as it is considered to bring good luck and money to the home.

Translated by Fanni Kaszás

There are many popular beliefs about New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, with thousands of superstitions, traditions, and lucky customs to follow on the last and first days of the year, with the primary purpose of these habits to make our next year happy, peaceful, and abundant. There are foods that are believed to bring misfortune when consumed on the first day of the year, such as poultry, because hens “scrape away luck.” At the same time, it is recommended to consume pork, as the pig itself is considered “lucky.”

Of course these are just old, not at all serious folk traditions, but they have been with us for centuries. For example, Americans eat green leafy vegetables reminiscent of paper money, Scandinavian countries swear by herring, reminiscent of silver money. In the Netherlands, people eat round donuts, while in Pakistan, rice is a lucky New Year’s food. In Hungary, consuming grains such as beans or lentils are considered to bring good luck and prosperity to the home. In fact, Italians also consume lentils on the first day of the year.

It is considered lucky because lentils look like small coins, and at the same time, their volume and round shape increase during cooking. Most Hungarians usually prepare lentils as a stew on New Year’s, as the dish was one of the stars of the school canteens in every Hungarian’s childhood.

However, there is no classic lentil recipe, as everyone has their own, proven recipe. Some soak the lentils, and some do not. Some cook the grains in meat or vegetable broth and some even add vegetables to the stew. We are now sharing a version that is condensed with a flour roux.

Lentil soup
– ingredients for 3 people –

  • 300 g lentils
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 onion
  • 1 teaspoon sweet, ground red pepper
  • 1 teaspoon mustard
  • 1 soup cube or meat stock
  • 3 teaspoons sour cream
  • 3 tablespoon flour
  • 1-2 teaspoon vinegar
  • oil
  • salt to taste

First, soak the lentils for a few hours, if you have enough time, it could even be overnight. Then pour the soaking water off the grains and wash them a few more times. Cut the onion and garlic into very small pieces and simmer in oil until it becomes translucent. Then add the red pepper, the lentils, and pour in a little more water than what covers the mix. As the water evaporates, we should replace it intermittently. Add salt and pepper to taste, then add the soup cubes and bay leaves. You can even add 1-2 tablespoons of sugar to bring out the real taste of the dish.

If you are working with meat or vegetable stock as a base, you don’t need a soup cube in it, and you also need to handle the seasoning more carefully. Once the lentils are almost soft, add the mustard and the vinegar, as much of them according to how sour you want the lentil stew. Then mix the sour cream with the flour and a little water until it is lump-free – this will be the thickening agent, the roux. Take a few spoonfulls out of the lentil broth and mix with the roux, then pour it all back into the pot. Boil the mixture once again and once it reaches the right consistency, the lentil stew is ready.

Photos and featured photo: Péter Csákvári/Hungary Today