The first night that James and I arrived in Budapest, on our trip there a few years ago, we realized just how amazing the little street we were staying on was. It was charming, handy to several train stations, and walking distance to some of the best restaurants on the Pest side. For our first, jet-lagged dinner, we stumbled down to Liszt Ferenc tér (square), lined with restaurants, bars and cafés, each with outdoor patios that faced each other and the small strip of trees and benches in the centre. Closed to traffic, it was a little utopia. And probably the spot that most tourists discovered on the first night in the city, too tired to try to find the oldest, hidden gems.
But the snack we ate on that first night was very similar to food that we ate at what was indeed one of the oldest cafés in the city. It was simple, Hungarian home food, really, mushrooms sautéd and mixed into a in a thick sauce of sour cream and paprika, served on warm, toasted bread. It was exactly the uncomplicated food we wanted as we slumped in our seats and took in the warm night, twinkly lights and many beautiful, happy, young people with a lot more energy than we had at that moment. Comfort food in a complicated, newly cosmopolitan city square.
All that sour cream and paprika–that was a theme that repeated itself throughout the food on that trip, of course, and I don’t think I ever tired of it. I came home with more paprika and saffron than I thought I could go through and now I’m almost out. Hungarian paprika is not smoky, and it’s not as bright red as the paprika I’ve bought here. There are spicy and mild, sweet versions and I find using a mix of both in my approximation of that mushroom toast recipe allows you to really taste its flavour and still get a little of that nice heat from the hot version. Of course, if you can’t get your hands on Hungarian paprika, use a non-smoked variety, and ideally sweet or mild over solely the hot kind. This will be the only time I tell you not to use more chilies that you think is wise. But I will tell you to pile more on that you think you need. The toast is just a vehicle here. This is just a messy, open-face sandwich, Budapest-style.
Hungarian Mushroom Paprikash Toasts
2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
2 cl garlic, chopped finely
1 lb button or crimini mushrooms, trimmed and chopped finely
1 tsp hot Hungarian paprika
1 tsp sweet or mild Hungarian paprika
1 tsp kosher salt, divided
1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/3 c sour cream
1/4 c chopped fresh dill
1 tbs lemon juice, plus more to taste
4 slices of bread
(The bread will need to be toasted. If toasting bread in oven, preheat oven before beginning.)
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and sauté for 2 minutes, stirring. Add mushrooms and 1/4 tsp of salt, stir well and cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the water that the mushrooms release has evaporated, about 5 minutes. Create a hot spot in the middle of the pan, pushing the mushrooms to the sides, and add both paprikas to the centre to toast for 30 seconds. Add 1/2 tsp of salt, stir and cook for another minute.
Add the remaining 1/4 tsp of salt to the sour cream and mix well. Turn off the heat and add the dill and lemon juice to the pan. Stir well and spread the mushrooms out and allow them to cook slightly in the pan for 3-4 minutes.
Meanwhile, toast bread in oven or toaster.
Add sour cream to the mushrooms and stir well to combine completely. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary. Spoon a quarter of the mushroom mixture onto each slice of toast and serve.