During the summer months when markets are full of ripe peppers and tomatoes, Hungarians love to make lecsó (leh-choch), a fast, nourishing, delicious and very budget-friendly meal. Hungarian lecsó can be cooked at home in a pot, but it’s also a big favorite of summer garden parties when lecsó is prepared over an open fire in a cauldron. In fact, “lecho” cooking is so popular among Hungarians that it even has its own festivals. In this article, we’ve collected all you need to know about this beloved Hungarian recipe.
The secrets of lecho
Hungarians love to think of lecsó as their own national food although similar vegetable stews can be found in the Czech, Slovak, Polish, Serbian, Austrian, Israeli and Croatian cuisine as well, not to mention its more well-known counterpart, the French Ratatouille.
If we want to determine which era the Hungarian lecsó comes from, we need to think of its two basic ingredients, tomatoes and bell peppers. Since both originate from the New World, we can’t talk about lecsó before the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus (1492) – so, lecsó is definitely not an ancient Hungarian recipe. Although tomatoes and bell peppers did arrive to Hungary through the Turks during the Ottoman occupation around the 16th century, for the lecsó recipe we still had to wait a couple of hundred years. According to most sources, Bulgarian gardeners who settled in Hungary at the end of the 19th century prepared a similar stew from peppers and tomatoes over open fire and it was through them that the lecsó started to become more and more widely known in the country at the beginning of the 20th century.
Today, entering the word „lecsó” into the search bar of a Hungarian cooking website will result in about 360 lecsó recipes, proving that Hungarians love to experiment with this popular dish. Even though the Hungarian lecsó variations are endless, the base of all lecsó recipes is the same: a mixture of tomatoes and peppers and onions, spiced with salt and red paprika powder. Some recipes may also use garlic, cumin, pepper, bay leaf or thyme.
The most popular lecsó variants include meat such as sausages (kolbász), bacon (szalonna), smoked pork chops, or a sliced frankfurter (virsli). But you can have lecsó as a side dish if you mix it with steamed rice (rizs) or egg barley (tarhonya), or as a breakfast meal if you mix it with eggs (tojás). To add a bit more flavor, some people mix more veggies with the basic lecsó e.g. zucchini, eggplant, or mushrooms. Lecsó however can also stand alone as a main course, in which case it’s consumed with bread.
Hungarian Lecsó recipe
Below is one of the many ways Hungarian lecsó can be prepared.
- 1 kg bell peppers
- 0,5 kg tomatoes
- 2 large onions
- a pair of sausages
- 1 tbsp of ground paprika
- salt and pepper
- a little oil for cooking
How to make it
Peel and dice the tomatoes. Cut the peppers into slices and remove its seeds. Slice up the onions and the sausages. In a large pot, fry the sausage slices on a little oil, then remove and set aside. In the remaining oil, cook the sliced onion for a few minutes, then lower the heat and sprinkle it with red pepper. Pour some water over it, mix and add the paprika, then cook it for 10-15 minutes under cover. Add the diced tomatoes, salt and paprika and let the whole mixture simmer, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes are soft and cooked. Finally, add the fried sausages to the mixture. Serve it warm with a slice of white bread.
Where to try it
Hungarian lecsó is a typical homemade dish, so it’s not easy to find in restaurants. But if you don’t want to cook it yourself, here are a few places in Budapest that serve great lecsó:
Lecsó magyaros gyorsétterem (1137 Budapest, Szent István körút 10.)
Náncsi néni vendéglője (1029 Budapest, Ördögárok u. 80)
Fülemüle étterem (1085 Budapest, Kőfaragó u. 5)
Magyar Ízek magyar háza (1053 Budapest, Váci u. 78)
Gettó gulyás (Budapest, Wesselényi u. 18, 1077)
Jó étvágyat! (Enjoy your meal!)