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Hungarian Cooking for American Tastes "Hungarian Cookbook" by Susan Derecskey reviewed

The Hungarian Cookbook by Susan Derecskey is a real cookbook. If I wanted to learn how to cook Hungarian dishes (and I do), I would use this book. Everything about it is practical. This is no coffee table decoration filled with pictures of quaint cafes on the Duna, but something as useful as the Betty Crocker, and Better Homes and Garden cookbooks.

Derecskey starts the reader off with a quick explanation of the techniques and ingredients peculiar to a Hungarian meal. Equipment, she says, like pots and pans, are standard. None of the ingredients are unusual or hard to find. The Hungarians especially love to use bacon, bread crumbs, butter, caraway seeds, cooking fat, onions, sausage, sour cream and tomatoes. You already know about paprika.

There is a short introductory, but helpful chapter on wines, naming and describing ten major Hungarian wine types.

Each chapter presents the expected categories, like fish, poultry and pork. She gives us the Hungarian translation for each food type, and for each recipe as well.

The recipes themselves are nicely described. Since the book is void of pictures of prepared dishes (the only crucial drawback), she relies on a strong prose style. That is often missing from other international cookbooks filled with poetic takes on the romance of the local culture. Never self-indulgent, Derecskey is personal, comfortably providing her preferences for spicing quantity and serving styles.

This isn't a gourmet book. The recipes here produce the foods being made in modern Hungarian homes. The author refers frequently to relatives who gave her insight for some of the more difficult dishes. Clearly written for American tastes and cooking styles, it may disappoint some cooks. Those looking for a more authentic but slightly gourmet taste should look for Chef Gundel's cookbook, based on his famous restaurant menu.

She gives us enough cultural discussion to keep the book from being bland, while never losing focus for why we purchased the book -- to learn how to make specific Hungarian dishes.

Finally, right after the chapter, "Desserts and Cakes" (Édességek és Torták), there is a handy state-by-state shopping guide with 56 butchers, delicatessens and import stores.

I fully recommend "The Hungarian Cookbook."

Anthony Trendl
editor, HungarianBookstore.com

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1 comment:

wolferiver said...

I have had this book for several years and consider it my bible. In my experience, the recipes in it are close to what my mother used to make, and the only essential recipe that's missing is the one for töpörtyűs pogácsa. (I found a good recipe for that in an out-of-print book called Paprikás Weiss Hungarian Cookbook, which is equally as practical and suited for the American kitchen as Ms. Derecskey's book. It is worth the trouble to hunt down a used copy.)