Hungarian Meatball Stew

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When I returned from my year in Europe, I had a huge stack of magazines waiting for my perusal in California. Most were issues of Everyday Food, which I seemed to have received the entire time I was away, but I had a handful of Every Day with Rachael Ray in the big crate as well.

In the September 2007 issue, I found an article that eerily anticipated our current financial downturn (though we certainly were feeling last year, as we bemoaned our rapidly diminishing buying power in a euro-centered economy). "Beef Up" featured recipes made with ground beef, a staple that's easy to buy in bulk for less to stock the freezer.

I followed the recipe pretty closely. I substituted chicken broth for the beef broth because it's what I keep on hand, a reasoning I'm certain Rachael herself would never frown on. I also used fresh, whole-wheat bread crumbs I had in the freezer from a bread-baking debacle, but the recipe doesn't specify the kind of crumbs to use.

Finally, I elected to serve the stew over rice rather than the suggested buttered noodles. Having lived for nine months in Slovakia (formerly united with Hungary) and having visited Budapest for a couple of days, I believe rice to be the more authentic choice over American-style curly egg noodles.

I browned the meatballs all at once in my huge everyday pan, using two spoons to turn them as they browned. The spoons are great for levering up meatballs stuck to the pan and gently flipping them without breakage.


The gravy thickened quickly. The burnished color of the paprika made the silky sauce look absolutely . . . camera-ready.


The aroma of rye bread filled the air as the stew simmered for the last few minutes. Caraway is strong stuff.

Alas, though I used two whole tablespoons of paprika straight from Hungary, I wasn't sold on this recipe. The meatballs were beefy, but they felt dry and could have used seasoning beyond salt and pepper. If I made them again, I would add paprika as well as my usual meatball mix-in, a grated onion.

Neither addition would make the recipe much more expensive, either. The biggest expense here is the ground beef, which cost me maybe $4. Everything else, including the salad I served on the side, cost only a few bucks more total. If you don't have caraway seeds and can't find that on the cheap, I don't think leaving it out would be such a tragedy.

Here's the recipe, with my notes in [brackets].

hungarian-meatball-stew03.jpgHungarian Meatball Stew
Source: Every Day with Rachael Ray, September 2007
Makes: 4 servings


1 1/2 pounds ground beef [I used 88-percent lean beef - a decent compromise among texture, calories, and price.]
1/2 cup bread crumbs [I used fresh whole-wheat crumbs.]
1 large egg
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 carrots, chopped
1 small onion, chopped [I used half of a large one.]
1 rib celery, chopped
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons sweet paprika
2 cups beef broth [I used chicken broth because I'm inauthentic like that sometimes.]
1 tablespoon caraway seeds

1. In a large bowl, combine the beef, bread crumbs, egg, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Mix well and form into 1 1/2-inch meatballs.

2. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Working in 2 batches, add the meatballs and cook, shaking the skillet often, until lightly browned, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain.

3. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the fat in the skillet and add the carrots, onion and celery. Cook, stirring constantly, until softened, about 3 minutes. Stir in the flour and paprika and cook for 1 minute. Pour in the beef broth and bring to a boil over high heat, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan; season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the reserved meatballs and caraway seeds, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 5 minutes.

CHILL: Cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days.
REHEAT: Warm the stew over medium heat.

FREEZE: Pour into a large freezer bag, press the meatballs into a single layer and lay the bag flat on a baking sheet. Freeze for up to 4 months.
REHEAT: Defrost in the refrigerator overnight or submerge the bag in cold water for 2 hours, changing the water every 1/2 hour. Pour the stew into a pot and warm over medium heat.

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