Lecsó is a Hungarian staple made with sweet Hungarian peppers, onions, tomatoes, and paprika, which are all stewed together in a bit of smoked bacon fat (or oil). It’s at its best when made from the kind of perfect tomatoes and peppers that you find in late summer /early autumn. Lecsó is also such a beloved part of the Hungarian culinary canon that you might hear it used as a verb in Hungarian.
When preparing lecsó, the vegetables mostly simmer in their own juices, until they are soft, sweet, and a bit smoky. It’s a simple dish which is more of a ratio than a recipe, with the preferred ratio of peppers tomatoes typically being 2:1 (by weight). With such few ingredients, lecsó really benefits from using the highest quality peppers, tomatoes, and lard/bacon that you can find. Use the pale green Hungarian sweet banana peppers—which are typical in Hungary—if you can find them.
If you have to make lecsó during the winter, you can use canned tomatoes, but the result will be very different. You may want to just find someone who thought ahead during the summer and prepared enough canned lecsó to last through the winter. One reason Hungarians prepare lecsó in such big quantities during the summer is to use it as a cooking condiment in the winter—by adding a few spoonfuls to substitute out of season peppers and tomatoes.
Lecsó can be eaten on its own (with just a piece of bread to sop up the juices). Or with scrambled eggs (for breakfast), served with spaetzle (for lunch), alongside pasta and farmer’s cheese (in a dish called túrós csúsza), or used to dress up a roasted pork loin. You can also prepare a heartier version of lecsó by adding a link of kolbász (sliced) to the poyt before you add the peppers.
Sebastian and Tamás recently did a live cooking demo on lecsó (paired with a wine tasting)
It is true that peppers and tomatoes are New World crops, but lecsó is considered a wholly Hungarian dish. Like so many Hungarian recipes, lecsó—which is often translated as Hungarian ratatouille—can be made simply at home, or in more refined versions by restaurant chefs. Because it is such a versatile dish, it can pair well with a variety of wines. A dry stony white wine from Somló would go nicely with lecsó and túrós csúsza, while a glass of rosé (or even a light red wine) would be wonderful with some lecsó and roasted pork.
PEPPER AND TOMATO STEW (LECSÓ)
- 100 grams (or about 6 slices) of fatty bacon (szalonna), chopped (or 4 Tablespoons oil)
- 2 medium onions, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons of sweet paprika
- 1 kilogram (2 pounds) sweet peppers, cored, seeded, and chopped
- 500 grams (1 pound) tomatoes, roughly chopped
- Salt to taste
- Add the bacon to a pot and cook over low heat until it is rendered. Or, if you are using oil, heat it.
- Add the onions, cook over low heat until they are translucent (not browned), about ten minutes.
- Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the paprika.
- Add the peppers, and cook for about 15 minutes (until they soften), adding a bit of water in the beginning, if needed.
- Add the tomatoes, and cook uncovered for about 20 minutes, until the peppers are soft and the liquid reduces a bit.