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Hungarian Paloc (Palocleves)

This soup is INSANELY good. The lamb imparts sweetness, the ample paprika brings the spice, and sour cream gives it tang and coolness along with the bright green dill. It’s unlike any soup I’ve tasted before—one of my favorite new flavor experiences, like the love child of Irish stew and Paprikash. Supposedly it’s like a lighter version of Goulash (which we will be doing later this year as well) but to be honest, I have never had Goulash either. Looking forward to it.

This was a soup invented in a famous Hungarian restaurant called Gundel’s by Janos Gundel the brilliant and intelligent, creative and courageous owner who everyone loved. Haha! There are three different stories about how/why Chef Gundel came to invent this recipe and call it Paloc, which is the name of the ethnic subgroup of Hungarians from Northern Hungary and southern Slovakia. Some say it was NOT named after the Paloc, but some say the famous restaurateur Gundel created Paloc to honor the famous writer Kalman Mikszath, whose nickname was something like “the greatest of all Paloc people.” So I’m not really following the logic. Another story is that the writer asked Gundel to make a soup that drew on all the features of traditional Hungarian cuisine. But then some say it was invented for a culinary competition.

I think it’s fun to look at maps—last week we were in Italy and then Poland and now Hungary. Swirling around Eastern Europe.

Here is a fun fact about paprika, which features heavily in Hungarian cuisine. Paprika is a chile powder of the fruit of a chile plant. But paprika peppers actually came from the New World, from Mexico, and were brought back to Spain where they were then traded first to Africa and Asia and then throughout the Ottoman Empire. Because it was a lot cheaper than pepper, poor people started using paprika to flavor their dishes….and then it filtered up to the rich folks like delicious things tend to do.

  • Ingredients:
  • 14 lbs bone-in leg of lamb, meat cut off bones into smallish cubes, bones reserved
  • 1 ½ lbs bacon or pork belly, cut in thin strips/lardons
  • 10 onions, chopped
  • 18 cloves garlic, minced
  • ¾ cup mild Hungarian paprika (NOT smoked Spanish style)
  • 4 ½ tsp cumin
  • 1 ½ cups dry white wine
  • 18 bay leaves
  • 9 1/2 quarts water
  • 3 lbs. potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 10 carrots, sliced (if they are huge, cut in half then slice, into half moons)
  • 3 lbs green beans, cut in thirds (bite size pieces)
  • 9 cups sour cream (2 ¼ quarts)
  • 3 manos (handfulls) of FRESH dill, stemmed and rough chopped (should yield about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 3 lemons, juiced
  • 6 TB salt plus more for lamb and to taste
  • 1 ½ tsp black pepper

In a heavy-bottomed soup pot, brown the bacon with a glug of olive oil to get started. Cook bacon on LOW for ten minutes, until beginning to brown and fat has rendered. Then add diced onion, increase heat to medium, and saute until golden and soft, about fifteen minutes.

Salt the lamb pieces and add to pot—let them brown and develop some flavor, for about eight minutes. You should have some brown bits in bottom of pan by now. Add wine to deglaze and let evaporate. Then add the minced garlic, paprika, and cumin and stir to combine and cook, careful not to burn, for five minutes.

Add 4 quarts of water, salt and bay leaves AND LAMB BONE. Bring to a boil THEN REDUCE HEAT TO A SIMMER AND COVER.

Cook COVERED for 45 minutes sobre fuego lento. Make sure this is only simmering (small bubbles, not large ones).

Uncover, add 5 ½ quarts water, the carrots and potatoes . Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 20-30 minutes, until potatoes and carrots are soft (I like to cook potatoes until some are just beginning to break down—I really don’t like crunchy potatoes). The broth should not taste watery either. Then add green beans, and cook for seven minutes. Don’t overcook green breans or they get rill sad looking. Remove bones now and pull off any meat you can and add back to soup.

Add a cup of the hot broth to the sour cream and whisk it until smooth to remove lumps. Then quickly add sour cream to soup, along with DILL, lemon juice and more salt if necessary. Remove from heat.

Garnish with more fresh chopped dill and a dollop of sour cream.