Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Spice, Not Salt + Lecsó

I officially don't like spicy food. I never understood the appeal of barbecue potato chips, like my elementary school classmates did. For me, caramelized onions and minced garlic are perfection, thank you very much.

When I became conscious of salt content in food, and how I can distinctly pinpoint the water retention and desperate thirstiness as a result, I wondered what spices out there could mimic the divinity of salt without the side effects.

I was surprised to discover that red pepper flakes, of all things, do a great job. The secret is that a little goes a long way, especially in a big pot of soup or in a simmering stew. A few shakes, and the dish is savory, not salty. And yet, my tongue is unsinged.
It has become a pantry staple. I chuck it fearlessly into the weekly soup I prepare for my lunches. It goes into paprikás. It goes into the newly reclaimed lecsó

The lecsó is now a fridge basic; a new one has to be churned up every few days, it disappears so quick. If I need to jazz up a side dish, I just chuck a few spoonfuls of lecsó to meld together with vegetables or grains. The other Sunday, to bulk Shabbos leftover chicken for Ta's supper, two chopped zucchini were simmered with a few dollops of lecsó for about ten minutes. Ta commented—twice—how good it tasted. "Paprika," he sighed happily. It was the pepper flakes, I'm sure. 

Babi used to make it with eggs. But it plays so well with nearly everything.  

Below is the recipe inspired by Zsuzsa and modified by Ma. Pesach-friendly! 


1 onion, thinly sliced into half-moons
6 bell peppers, orange and yellow, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon paprika
not quite a teaspoon to 1 teaspoon of hot paprika (depending on preference)*
2-3 shakes red pepper flakes (optional)
1 tablespoon, heaping, brown sugar
1 14 oz. can of crushed, diced, or chopped tomatoes**
1 can mushrooms (optional)

1. Saute onion in oil for 5-7 minutes on medium flame. 
2. Add the minced garlic and paprika (to infuse in the oil) both regular and hot, and/or a sprinkle of red pepper flakes, for less than a minute. 
3. Then the peppers, for 5 minutes.
4. If so inclined, a can of mushrooms as well, and add another 5 minutes.
5. Add the tomatoes and brown sugar.
6. Simmer on low to medium flame (tomato sauce can burn very easily) for 20 minutes, covered. 

*I have not been able to find Pesachdik hot paprika. Then the red pepper flakes can be relied on for kick. 

**Alternatively: 1/2 carton of Pomi chopped tomatoes. For Pesach, the least sodium-riddled option I've found is the Lieber's San Marzano canned tomatoes. Actual tomatoes would work fine as well, if simmered long enough. 
—Good hot, cold, or room temp. Excellent for challah dipping.    

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