Saturday, March 31, 2018

Hungarian Cookbook: Old World Recipes for New World Cooks (Hippocrene International Cookbooks) Hardcover by Yolanda Nagy Fintor (Hippocrene Books) (IBRCookBooks)

I gave this book 5 stars because it accomplishes so many things at once that most cookbooks fail to do! Its genuine and honest tone captures you and makes you want to refer to the book again and again. It makes you feel like your grandma is talking you through the experience. It also helps that it is written without the assumption that all Hungarian spices and other ingredients will be available at any part of the world... And most of all, it's not just about the food, it's about tradition and life in Hungary too. It helps the non-Hungarian reader understand the occasions for which a dish is prepared, as well as remind the Hungarian reader of their childhood experiences of eating those dishes. Reading certain parts of it brought back memories that made me emotional and want to prepare the food then and there. :)

The book gives some background on the language too, and helps beginner cooks with some basic tips, reminding others of those same ones in an effective, no nonsense manner. Short cuts always help, as do "rescues" for any dish and I enjoy learning about other cooks' methods before reading their recipes. This book has a great structure for that.

I see some reviewers complaining that the book leaves out some ingredients and makes things "bland" but the truth is that sometimes it just isn't practical to make things the old school "hearty and Hungarian" way. If you are ordering this book from Amazon in English, chances are that you live outside of Hungary and trying to cook with what you can buy in your local "ethnic food store". You are probably also cooking for your non-Hungarian friends, some of whom were not raised with food that spicy. Making the food more "authentic" will mean that they may never try it again, or they will forever talk about how they were "traumatized" by your cooking. Last but not least, there has been a change in cooking styles in Hungary too. The younger generation tends to cook less, well... Some would call it less flavorful.

Lard has been replaced by olive oil (there goes 50% of the flavor you grew up with), salt use has been decreased to a third of what it used to be (there goes the rest of the flavor), there is less paprika and more "exotic spices" used, and overall everything is more likely to be prepared in healthier ways. I feel that this cookbook is somewhere in the middle of the road. Not quite Lajos Mari style "hardcore" and authentic, but also not completely bland and boring as some reviews suggest. It contains a great number of recipes that you and your family will enjoy for a long time to come, that are explained in an easy to understand manner and that you will want to share with others. I have given this book as a gift as well as used it myself and would give it no less than 5*.

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