The history of lecsó, the Hungarian counterpart of the French dish ratatouille, began in America with Spanish mediation, and not surprisingly, Turkish-Serbian influence. However, we can also say that while keeping these international origins in mind, lecsó is a very Hungarian dish, as it is not similar to any other nation’s paprika-tomato dish, neither in its garnishing nor its preparation.
The first peppers were brought home to Europe by the Columbus’s doctor, and then, as a result of a later expedition, tomatoes also made their way to the old continent. However, for a long time, Europeans failed to use the amazing new vegetable, as surprisingly it was believed to be poisonous for an incredibly long time.
To Hungary, the tomato – and with it a dish similar to today’s Hungarian lecsó – arrived across the Balkans during the Turkish occupation. Although the Turkish course was suspiciously similar, the traditional Hungarian lecsó only appeared much later, so we probably didn’t get the idea of the dish from the Turks.
In its present form, the food first appeared around the 1870s, and was prepared on an open fire by Bulgarian gardeners who settled down in the country. In 1902, the magazine A Hét first published a recipe for lecsó, although at that time it was still called “rácz omácska,” where the word “omácska” meant ‘sauce.’
The word lecsó first appeared as a provincial word from Diósjenő, collected by Sándor Horváth in the form lëcső, lëcsó (green pepper with tomatoes) in the 1914 issue of the Magyar nyelv (Hungarian language) magazine’s Volume 10. According to some experts, the word is a distorted version of the term všeličo (mixed, of all kinds) used by the Slovak-speaking population of Kistompa, just 20 kilometers from Diósjenő.
The ‘real career’ of lecsó, on the other hand, began when the First Hungarian Can and Ore Factory made canned lecsó so successful under the brand ‘Globus’ that it also became a serious export item as well. This was the time when the dish’s foreign name, the German-sounding “letscho” was also born.
Today, we consider ‘letcho’ to be one of the cornerstones of Hungarian cuisine, and just as the other main dishes of the country, there are just as many recipes of it as many houses from lecsó with rice, lecsó with eggs, and lecsó with sausages.
– ingredients –
8 Hungarian wax peppers
4 large tomatoes
1 large onion
100 grams of bacon
100 grams of sausage
salt, pepper to taste
Wash and slice the peppers, chop the tomatoes and finely chop the onions as well. Cube the bacon and start frying it. Once the fat has melted, add the onion, sautée it and then after a few minutes add the wax peppers too. As soon as it shrinks a little, add the sausages and the tomatoes as well. Add salt and pepper to taste, and after cooking together the mix for 10 minutes, the basic Hungarian lecsó is ready, which we can soup-up a little by adding rice, eggs, or more sausages. I, for one, vote for eggs.
Translated by Fanni Kaszás
Featured photo and photos: Péter Csákvári/Hungary Today