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Lecso – a typical Hungarian vegetable dish with tomatoes and peppers, a delicious vegan meal with rice or a perfect side dish for any kind of meat, sausage or fish.
Lecso is the kind of dish you will find in many world cuisines, similar ones are the French Piperade, the Middle Eastern Shakshuka, the Turkish Menemen, the Spanish Pisto or the Italian Peperonata. The Czech and the Slovak call it Leco, the Polish Lezco, the German Letscho and the Russian something in Cyrillic that I cannot read, but which I am sure sounds pretty similar. 🙂
Peppers and tomatoes smothered together to make a delicious and very comforting stew, often eaten with eggs cooked directly in the stew, yet still perfect for either eating it plain with some rice, polenta or bread or alongside a piece of meat or fish. I actually cook lecso mostly as presented today, plain, without the eggs, because I love it as a side dish for meat or fish and because since making Yotam Ottolenghi’s Shakshuka Plenty: Vibrant Vegetable Recipes from London’s Ottolenghi for the first time, I keep sticking to that whenever I feel like having a tomato dish with eggs.
Lecso or a similar version of it is a very common dish to find in many houses all over Transylvania. Peppers and tomatoes are plentiful in summer and autumn and, nowadays, making lecso in winter should not get any difficult either. If I can get ripe and juicy tomatoes in summer I use them to make lecso, otherwise I use a can of tomatoes, they are a million times better than some of the tasteless and watery tomatoes I sometimes find in the supermarket.
Like mentioned above, Lecso can be made plain the way I make it most of the times, it can be enriched with sausage or meat (mostly pork) or it can be kept vegetarian/vegan by adding potatoes or cooked rice directly to the dish. If you decide to add meat, you should start by frying the meat and the onions first, like you would do when making any other kind of goulash or meat stew and then add the peppers and the tomatoes.
If you would like to make Lecso with eggs, cook the lecso following this recipe and add about 3 beaten, salted and peppered eggs to the mixture at the end of the cooking time. Stir for some more minutes until the eggs have set.
I prefer to use pointed red peppers to make lecso, sometimes combined with 1 or 2 yellow pointed peppers. Red bell peppers can be used instead, but I have actually never used them for this dish, for me the authenticity of lecso lies in the use of pointed peppers, like in Romania. 🙂 A red chili is a must, if you ask me. I use the Romanian kind of red chili, which is a rather long variety and not too hot. If you use another kind of chili, be careful with the dosage, start with less and add more to taste.
And here are some more vegan stew ideas:
- 2 large onions
- 2 tablespoons oil
- 500 g/ 1.1 lbs red pointed peppers
- 1 red chili (See note 1)
- 500 g/ 1.1 lbs ripe tomatoes or 1 can of tomatoes 450 g/ 1 lbs (See note 2)
- ½ teaspoon sweet paprika powder
- ½ teaspoon hot paprika powder
- 1 bunch of parsley
- salt and pepper
- Optional: 3 large eggs
Quarter the onion and thinly slice the quarters.
Heat the oil and cook the onion until slightly golden. Add 3 tablespoons water, cover the pot and cook the onions until soft, about 10 minutes. Stir several times in between.
In the meantime, deseed the peperoni and the peppers and slice them thinly. Add them to the pot, add another 2-3 tablespoons of water, cover and cook on low heat for further 10 minutes.
Add the sweet and the hot paprika powder and stir well to coat the vegetables. Add the chopped tomatoes or the tomatoes from the can including all their juices. If using fresh tomatoes you might need to add a bit more water, it really depends on how juicy they are. Start with 2-3 tablespoons and add more later if the dish looks dry. It is important to use really good, ripe and flavorful tomatoes, if you cannot find them stick to the canned tomatoes or add about 1 or 2 tablespoons tomato paste to the dish together with the paprika powder.
Stir well and cook for further 15-20 minutes or until the vegetables are soft. Adjust the taste with salt and pepper.
If you would like to add the eggs, whisk them well in a small bowl, add some salt and pepper and give them to the lecso. Stir and cook the eggs gently until they are set.
1. With seeds or deseeded, only ½ or more than 1, depending on taste and hotness of the chili. 2. Only use ripe and flavorful fresh tomatoes, if you cannot get any, it is much better to use canned tomatoes than unripe fresh ones.
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