When Andras “Andy” Zaborski escaped Hungary, he carried hope for the future, love for his mother’s old-country cooking – and not much else.
He was 20 when he walked across the border into Austria, fleeing the Soviet response to the ill-fated Hungarian Uprising in 1956. It would be nearly 10 years before he saw his mother or tasted her home cooking again.
Chicken Paprikás, one of his favorite dishes, reminds him of his childhood in Budapest. The vibrant, peppery stew, similar to goulash, is one of Hungary’s most famous foods.
“You can eat it any time, but it’s more like a Sunday dinner because of the prep time,” Zaborski said. “It’s more like weekend food.”
In Hungary, his mother would make Chicken Paprikás, or Paprika Chicken, “every other week.” At 78, Zaborski prepares the “heavy-duty” dish, pronounced pah-pree-kahsh, about four times a year.
He serves it with homemade dumplings called galuska, pronounced gal-oosh-kah. He often brings out a tablecloth embroidered by his mother for the occasion. She gave it to him during her last visit to America in 2004, four decades after her first visit.
Zaborski didn’t return to Hungary until 1984. It was a difficult journey – and a little scary. Hungary was still Communist-controlled then. And when he fled nearly 30 years earlier, Zaborski had been a member of the Hungarian Border Patrol.
“Technically, I went AWOL,” or absent without leave, said Zaborski, who didn’t tell anyone he was leaving, not even his mother.
He’s not proud of that.
But the move changed the course of – and might have saved – his life. Thousands of Hungarians were killed as the Soviets squashed the short-lived, student-led revolt in October and November 58 years ago. Some 200,000 more fled the fighting.
Zaborski spent a few weeks in a refugee camp before he came to the U.S. In his new life – first in New Orleans, then San Diego, and finally Spokane – he worked to replicate his mother’s cooking and keep alive the memory of his homeland.
The retired mechanic loves to cook. In his submission for “In the Kitchen With …” Zaborski wrote: “I bake pastries and breads, some ethnic and some American. I guess this desire must come from the genes I acquired from my mother who was an incredible cook.”
Ilona Kokeny had honed her cooking skills working for a wealthy family in Budapest before Zaborski was born.
He sometimes likes to add jalapeño peppers to his Chicken Paprikás. But that’s not authentic. “We don’t have jalapeños in Hungary,” he said.
Plus, they’re too spicy for his wife, Trudy, 76.
The couple visited Hungary for three weeks in 2002. It was Trudy’s first visit to her husband’s homeland.
“I love Hungary,” she said. “The people were so warm and inviting. You have to eat, no matter where you went.”
Back in Spokane, it can be difficult to find Hungarian foodstuffs. Zaborski, who’s been back to Hungary a half-dozen times in all, buys sheep’s cheese and smoked sausage at Kiev Market, which specializes in imported Eastern European products.
When he makes his beloved Chicken Paprikás, he braises chicken thighs – skinless and deboned with the fat trimmed – then sautés chopped onions until they become glossy. After that, he adds the paprika: “That’s important. That gives you the name of the whole meal.”
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken thighs, fat trimmed off
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons paprika
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
1 large red bell pepper, finely chopped
2 Santa Fe peppers, finely chopped
2 yellow or orange peppers, finely chopped
2 hot Hungarian wax peppers, finely chopped (optional)
2 Roma tomatoes, diced
4 white button mushrooms, finely chopped
2 to 3 cups water
1/2 cup sour cream
3 tablespoons flour
Salt and pepper to taste
In a 6-quart Dutch oven, heat olive oil on medium-high, then braise chicken on both sides. Remove from heat and set aside. Sauté onion in the Dutch oven until onion becomes glossy, then add paprika, garlic, broth, peppers, tomatoes and mushrooms, stirring until well combined. Add back the chicken, then add water until the mixture is level with the chicken. Simmer until chicken is completely cooked and mixture is slightly reduced, about 20 minutes.
In a small mixing bowl, combine sour cream with ½ cup cooking liquid and mix until the texture is no longer lumpy. Add the sour cream mixture and flour to the pot and continue to simmer for another 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Serve with potatoes, noodles, rice or homemade egg pasta dumplings.
Egg Pasta Dumplings, or Galuska
When making these dumplings, Zaborski advises, “The dough has to be soft. If it’s too hard it won’t go through” the spaetzle plane. Plus, they’ll become rubbery.
Galuska is easy to make, especially if you have the sliding dough cutter. But in the old country, dumplings were formed by hand. “When I was a kid, of course, everything was handmade,” Zaborski said.
2 cups flour
1/2 cup water or broth
1 tablespoon olive oil
Combine all ingredients except olive oil in a medium bowl until well mixed. The dough will be thin and semi-runny. Add oil to a medium-sized pot of boiling water. Place a sliding dough cutter over the pot of boiling water, spoon dough into the cutter, slide the handle and drop freshly made dumplings into the boiling water. Repeat until all the dough is used. Boil until thoroughly cooked, about 5 minutes. Strain with a colander.
Zaborski sometimes serves this classic dessert after a meal of Chicken Paprikás. Paper-thin pancakes like these are popular throughout Eastern Europe, particularly in Slavic countries. In Hungary, the crepes are called palacsinta and can be stuffed with sweet or savory fillings.
2 cups flour
1 cup milk
1/4 cup soda water
Zest of 1 lemon
1 egg, separated, plus white of 1 more egg
Butter, to grease skillet
1 pound large curd cottage cheese
2 tablespoons cream cheese
1 egg, plus 1 egg yolk
3 or 4 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons flour
Zest of 1 lemon
1 cup rum-soaked raisins
2 eggs, beaten
1/3 cup milk
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
For pancakes: Combine first four ingredients plus egg yolk in a large mixing bowl. In a small bowl, beat egg whites until soft peaks form, then add them to the mixture. Ladle the batter into a skillet, preferably cast iron, coated with melted butter. Cook the crepe on medium heat until lightly browned on the bottom. Flip the crepe and cook other side until brown dots begin to appear. Transfer to a plate. Repeat, with melted butter, until batter is gone.
For the filling: Put the cottage cheese and cream cheese through ricer. In a large mixing bowl, mix egg, egg yolk, sugar, vanilla, flour and lemon zest into the cottage and cream cheese mixture until well combined. Gently stir in raisins.
Spoon 2 tablespoons of filling each crepe. Fold crepes “like a taco,” then tuck in ends, and continue rolling like a cigar. Cut each crepe in half, then pace cut-side up in a greased 6-by-9 baking pan.
For drizzle: Combine all ingredients in a medium mixing bowl, mixing until smooth. Drizzle over cut-side up crepes, standing in the greased baking dish.
Bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes.