When our Hungarian friend, George, went on holiday recently he found that one thing he really missed was his soup.
He and his wife Theresa traveled to Paris, Strasbourg, Munich, Geneva, Salzburg, and Vienna, and saw many rare and wonderful sights. But Budapest, too, is a great European city, and they were glad to be home.
Their daughter Agnes had George's favorite soup waiting for him: Meggy Leves or Sour Cherry Soup.
This cold, sweet, and spicy soup is deliciously refreshing, especially on hot summer days when at least half of Budapest, or so it seems, has retreated to Margaret Island.
A cool sanctuary for rest and recreation it is located in the middle of the Danube river between old Buda and newer Pest.
''We Hungarians must have our soup,'' George explained, after he had taken his fill of the pretty pink soup, and the broad smile of a man at home had returned to his face.
After all, we should remember that Hungary's most famous dish, Magyar Gulyas (Hungarian Goulash) is actually a delicious beef, potatoes, and paprika soup when prepared authentically. Most meals here begin with soup.
This beginning soup can be just a homemade broth into which flour and egg dumplings are added, or else it can be a creation more elaborate than the main meal.
Along the shores of Balaton, Europe's largest freshwater lake, a fiery soup called Halaszle is prepared with several varieties of fish, onions, sweet peppers, and hot paprika. This rich and exotic brew is usually served in curious little tin pots, and the sound of satisfied spoons clanking happily provides an excellent accompaniment to the everpresent gypsy fiddle or accordion.
Apart from cold fruit soups made from apples, or plums, as well as sour cherries, vegetable soups are popular, as are soups which have a base of sour cream. Here are a few of Agnes's recipes for some of her father's favorites.
Magyar Gulyas, of course, is a classic. Meggy Leves is equally typical, though excitingly different to us. Although it can be made with canned sour cherries, it is of course much better when made freshly.
During the summer this lighter, brighter, firm fruit is displayed in colorful abundance in market stalls throughout Hungary, and cries for attention over the darker, somber shades of dried sweet or hot paprika which are draped everywhere. Magyar Gulyas (Hungarian Goulash Soup) 1 tablespoon lard or cooking fat 1 large onion, coarsely chopped 1 clove garlic, finely chopped 1 pound stewing beef, cut into cubes 1 16-ounce can tomatoes 1 teaspoon caraway seeds Salt and freshly ground black pepper 1 tablespoon sweet Hungarian paprika 3 pints water 1 pound potatoes, cut into cubes
In large iron kettle, heat lard or fat and add chopped onions, garlic, and cubes of beef. Fry until brown.
Add tomatoes, caraway seeds, salt and pepper, and paprika. Cover with water, and cook over a low flame until the meat is tender, 1 to 11/2 hours. 40 minutes before serving, add the chopped potatoes. Meggy Leves (Sour Cherry Soup) 1 1/2 pounds sour Morello cherries Generous pinch of cinnamon 3 cloves 5 tablespoons sugar 2 pints water 1 egg, beaten 1/4 pint sour cream
Wash cherries but do not stone. Place in a large pot. Add spices, 4 tablespoons sugar, and water.
Bring to the boil and simmer covered for one hour. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
This compote can be prepared in advance so that when the soup is required it is only a matter of five minutes to prepare it.
In large soup tureen add remaining tablespoon of sugar to beaten egg. Mix well. Add sour cream to egg mixture and beat well. Slowly add cherry compote, and blend thoroughly. Serve well chilled.