I finally got a reader (or is it “eater” in this case?) request!  My cousin Jon’s beautiful new wife, Tracie, recently discovered The Wooden Spoon (thank you to whoever in the fam is sharing- I don’t have everyone’s email addresses!) and adventurously made Goulash with her Mom for Jon.  Apparently he was very happy to come home to a Hungarian meal, Grandma-style, and wanted to know if I had the recipe for a “bean soup that Grandma used to make” that may have had sour cream in the broth.  Well there was only one bean soup that he could have been referring to, and I had been contemplating making it for several weeks, so here it is: Bab Leves!

The soup, pronounced “Bub Lavesh”, is very simple, easy, creamy, and warm.  Of course, being that it is bean soup, it is also very bean-y.  I had heard all about the deliciousness of Bab Leves from my Dad, but I had never actually made it or had it before.  Grandma knew her core of Hungarian recipes by heart.  She did transcribe her recipes for the record, but they are not always very thorough.  Each recipe is like a little story, and at the end of the story you may feel like you missed a chapter or two.  However, Hungarian recipes and cooking are traditionally passed on via cooking together with your mother or grandmother, and she made sure all of her daughters-in-law knew how to cook Hungarian, and some of the grandchildren also got to learn from her and eat her cooking.  It’s a running joke (that’s kind of true) that my Mom had to learn to cook Hungarian in order to marry my Dad.  I learned mainly from my Mom, and also rely on my Dad’s intimate knowledge of how these recipes should taste and how Grandma made them.  This has been a very long-winded way of explaining that I was nervous about making a recipe I had never made with my Mom or eaten with my Dad, and furthermore making it solely using Grandma’s recipe card.  How would I know if the taste was right? Especially with omitting the meat!

It looked easy enough though, and it was.  Grandma actually takes care of the vegetarian issue with this recipe (proof that she would have no problem with this vegetarian Hungarian food I’m making!), telling my Dad (Bobby) that he could just add some oil and garlic if he wanted to make it vegetarian- “tastes just like ‘kolbasz’ flavor sausage!”- and that worked well for me.  I don’t know if it really tasted just like sausage, but it sure tasted good!  I might use even more garlic next time.  Grandma’s recipe calls for several tablespoons of vinegar, but my Dad later told me it was really “to taste”.  Apparently, my Grandpa Zoltan used to sit down with a bowl of Bab Leves and a bottle of vinegar and just go to town!  I think I personally like less vinegar, but it’s totally up to you!

The man in the forefront is my Great Grandpa Szabo, my Grandma's father. I wonder if he was sitting down to a bowl of bab leves?

My parents were just in Baltimore, visiting for Thanksgiving, and my Dad got to try my Bab Leves.  He said it definitely tasted right, which was a relief because even though I thought it was good, I wasn’t 100% sure that it was right.  The only caveat he had was that it needed something else to replace the sausage that was normally in it, so next time I will experiment with adding veggie sausage.  But at least for now I can confidently share this recipe with you, knowing it lives up to Grandma’s standard.  I hope that it tastes just like Jon remembers it, and I am so happy that his wife and their boys (the adorable Karson and Konnor) get to learn Grandma’s recipes and have some real traditional Elek family food!

Bab Leves: Bean Soup

1-3 tablespoons olive oil

3-4 cloves of garlic (or more if you prefer), sliced thin

1 medium sweet onion, chopped

1 lb. pinto beans (not canned!- uncooked beans)

1 cup sour cream

1-3 tablespoons of vinegar (I used white wine vinegar, and you can add it to taste)

1/3 cup flour

Salt-pepper-paprika to taste (I used a TON of paprika- I just love it so much)

Optional: Any kind of vegetarian sausage, chopped and thrown in towards the end

Pick beans over, removing dirt or bad beans, and wash.  Follow the instructions on the bag the beans came in, doing a quick or overnight soak (Misha says overnight works best).

Once the beans are done soaking:

Saute the garlic and onion in olive oil in a large pot over medium heat, just until the garlic starts to brown slightly and the onion becomes transparent.  Add the beans and enough water to cover, about 2 quarts, and bring to a boil.  Let boil for about 45-60 minutes, or until the beans are soft.

the sour cream mixture

While the soup is cooking prepare the sour cream mixture.  In a medium bowl combine sour cream, flour, and paprika.  Mix smooth and set aside.

When the beans are soft, add vinegar and let come back to a boil.  Once boiling, add a couple dippers of soup to sour cream mixture and combine well.  Now add to the soup pot and stir, let come to a boil one more time, and shut off.

This soup can be made with green beans instead of pinto beans.  It is best served with salt, pepper, and maybe a bottle of vinegar.