In Hungary, it's called husleves (HOOSH-levesh) or "meat soup." A pot of rich broth created by simmering meat and bones, fresh vegetables and spices for hours. And it is delicious. It is probably better than any soup you've ever tasted. Especially if the husleves is made by Katalin Bánfalvi.
When I was in Hungary in October, I was a dinner guest at the home of Katalin. Her home is tucked into a small village in northwestern Hungary. Outside, a bowl of fresh-picked walnuts, still in their shells, sat on the steps. The last of the fruit from the quince trees were on the ground. And as I stepped inside her house, the familiar aroma of sweet paprika wafted to my nostrils.
In her kitchen the size of a shoe box, Katalin whipped up a Hungarian meal that rivaled those I remember my Hungarian grandma making.
The meal started with the soup. Thin, tiny logs of ringed pasta were bathing in the most flavorful beef broth I'd ever tasted. Carrots and parsnips that had been simmered in the soup were served family style, making it possible for each person to choose the ones they preferred.
When the last drop of soup from each bowl had disappeared, Katalin brought another platter to the table. This one held the beef. In Hungary, it is customary for the vegetables and the meat to be served separate from the broth.
I have discovered that when soup is enjoyed this way, it becomes a satisfying meal to linger over. But at Katalin's home, the soup was just a teaser for what was to come.
Katalin was happy to share her soup-making secrets with me. Her son, Gábor, acted as our interpreter. I taped our conversation. You can listen to Katalin explain how to make her soup at this newspaper's Web site.
Don't be intimidated by the thought of making homemade soup. Yes, it can take time. But while the stock is simmering for hours, it needs little attention. It is so easy to do on a wintry weekend when you just want to stay home.
I like to start by roasting the meat and some vegetables. It adds a deep, rich flavor to the broth. If you're short on time, though, you can skip the roasting step and still have a hearty broth. As Katalin directs, I use good meat and cold water when preparing husleves. I also use the spices she suggests. Although she did not give me amounts, I have come up with a blend that delivers satisfying taste and wonderful fragrance.
Nothing beats the flavor of this homemade stock. It can be refrigerated for a few days or stored in the freezer for months.
On the day you are ready to eat soup, just heat up the broth and add vegetables, allowing enough time for them to simmer until they are tender.
I've made Katalin's Husleves twice since my visit to her home. It takes me back to her table where she shared her love of food and love of life with me. And it makes my body and soul feel warm and cozy on these cold winter days.
Katalin's Husleves (Meat Soup)
1 3/4 pounds beef chuck pot roast
1 1/2 pounds beef shank
2 large carrots, broken into several pieces
2 large onions, unpeeled and halved
2 ribs celery, roughly chopped
1 potato, cut into large chunks
2 cloves garlic, unpeeled and smashed
8 whole coriander seeds, crushed
2 dried bay leaves
12 whole peppercorns
2 whole allspice
1/4 teaspoon caraway seeds
Small chunk of whole nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon dried marjoram leaves
1 teaspoon salt
3 to 4 carrots, cut in half lengthwise
3 to 4 parsnips, cut in half lengthwise
Tiny pasta of choice, cooked
Fresh parsley, minced, for garnish
Heat oven to 450 degrees. Place meat with 1 carrot, 1 onion, 1 rib of celery, and 1 clove of garlic in a large shallow roasting pan. Roast for 30 minutes or until meat is browned. Transfer the meat and roasted vegetables to a large soup pot or stock pot. Discard any fat from pan.
Pour about 1 cup of water into the roasting pan and bring to a boil on top of the stove, stirring well to scrape up any flavorful browned bits. Pour this liquid into the stock pot. Add remaining vegetables and garlic and the potato.
Add enough cold water to cover the meat and vegetables in the pot (probably 8 to 10 cups). Bring the liquid just to a boil, skimming off any foam that may form on the surface.
Place coriander seeds, bay leaves, peppercorns, allspice, caraway seeds, nutmeg and marjoram leaves in a tea ball or tie them up in cheesecloth and add to the stock pot. Add salt.
Partly cover the stockpot and simmer the stock for 4 to 6 hours. The meat and vegetables should always be covered with liquid, so top up with a little boiling water from time to time if necessary.
Remove tea ball or cheesecloth with spices. Use tongs to transfer meat from the pot to a large plate. Strain the stock by pouring it through a colander lined with cheesecloth into another large pot or bowl. Use a large rubber spatula to smash the vegetables to release all their flavorful juices. Discard the smashed vegetables. If possible, allow the stock to cool, and then refrigerate it. The fat will rise to the top and set in a layer that can easily be removed.
To prepare the soup, heat the strained stock. When hot, add carrots and parsnips. Simmer until the vegetables are tender. Place the reserved meat, chunked, into the pot to heat. Cook pasta in a separate pot as directed on package.
To serve, I like to transfer meat and vegetables to a serving platter. Place some cooked pasta in each soup bowl. Add broth. Each person can add meat and vegetables to soup as desired. Offer minced parsley to sprinkle over the top of soup. 6 to 8 servings.