Archives for category: Family

Mom's Bab Leves

Good Monday morning to everyone!  I wanted to share with you this photo of my Mom’s Bab Leves.  She wanted to post it in the comment section, but since you can’t post photos that way she sent it to my email address with this comment attached:

“It’s not often that the temperature falls into the 30’s in Tampa, Florida, but it will be there tonight, just as it was last night.  Reminding us here in sunny Florida that it really is still winter.  So what could be better than a steaming hot bowl of Bab Leves for dinner?   Hungarian pastries to have for dessert….!   But Dad will have to settle for the soup and some crusty wheat bread – no pastries tonight.  I appreciate your comittment to vegetarian cooking but alas, I did add Hungarian sausage from the super good Hungarian Sausage House in Safety Harbor.  They make it there using authentic recipes so you can be sure it is just like what Grandma used to use in her soup.  I do cut the calories and fat by using plain greek yogurt in place of the sour cream – you really cannot tell the difference.  So that’s my cheat on Grandma’s recipe!”

Thanks for the awesome photo and comment, Mom!  You, too, can choose to substitute greek yogurt for sour cream anytime- you really can’t tell the difference, and it is much lower in calories.  On a day-to-day basis, I try to be not just vegetarian, but vegan, and as healthy and low-cal as possible- but when I make Hungarian food, I want that sour cream!  Maybe one day I’ll make low-cal Hungarian food, or even vegan Hungarian food, but for  now I think losing the meat is challenge enough!

Sharing is an important aspect of Hungarian food and cooking, and my Mom’s sharing gave me an idea.  I have written before that I welcome all your comments, pictures, recipes, ideas, and so on and so forth.  I would like to extend that and start a regular “Show & Tell” series of posts.  I am often so busy with work, studio, exercise, friends, and so on that it is difficult for me to find time to cook Hungarian more than once a month or so.  Ideally, I would love to cook more so I can post more, but realistically I can only do the best I can do, and I think it would be great to expand on my posts to include other vegetarian meals, great vegetarian restaurants I visit, and other vegetarian and/or Hungarian related things.

The “Show & Tell” series would feature your first-hand cooking photos, experiences, stories, recipes, and anything else you want to share with me and your fellow readers- a blog show-and-tell.  Show-and-tell was always one of the best parts of grade school, right?!  I would also love to take reader requests, so if you have a recipe you want me to make vegetarian and post on the blog, send me those as well!

This will tentatively be a monthly series, but if I get lots of awesome show-and-tell emails, it can become bi-weekly!  Send any and all: cooking photos, old Hungarian family photos, stories- cooking, memories, etc.- recipes, experiences, or anything else you can think of, to

Hope to hear from you soon, and have a great week!


Some of my best memories of Christmases past revolve around the much-anticipated box of Christmas cookies sent to us every year by Grandma.  This magical brown cardboard box, which may have been any size but always seemed very large to my child self, contained within it enough combinations of butter, sugar, and flour to send us bouncing off the walls.

the dough beginning to form

Each and every cookie was individually wrapped in plastic.  This was because in order to make enough cookies to fill four huge boxes for all her sons and grandchildren, Grandma had to start baking cookies months in advance.  When the cookies were finished, she would wrap each cookie in plastic wrap and freeze them.  This way, when December rolled around, all she had to do was put them in cute packaging and ship them in the mail.  She put so much love into each cookie, you could taste it.  Just thinking about that box of cookies makes me so happy and so wistfully nostalgic.  It was one of the sweetest, most loving gestures- and we were so happy and grateful to receive them.

I don’t remember all the cookies she would make- a wide variety- but I remember kifli (of course), sugar cookies, maybe bars of some sort, peanut brittle, jam thumbprint cookies (I think), and primarily, I remember my favorite cookie of them all: chocolate kiss cookies.

Now any other time of the year I would tell you that kifli is my favorite cookie, hands-down.  But during Christmas time, chocolate kiss cookies take the top spot in my cookie heart.  They are like a pecan sandie- with walnuts- plus a creamy sugar coating and a soft chocolate center.  They melt in your mouth and have the perfect vanilla-nut-chocolate flavor combo.  Plus, they are very easy to make- an important quality to have during the hectic holiday weeks.  It had been years since I last had them, and I was eager to make them again.

Sadly, the recipe for these chocolate kiss cookies is currently lost.  They are not Hungarian, so they are not in my pile of Hungarian recipes that I have from Grandma.  There are other non-Hungarian recipes in the pile, so I thought it might be there, but no.  My Mom swears she has it somewhere (and I’m sure she does), but after an hour of searching she came up empty.  HOWEVER, my Mother is incredibly resourceful, and after five minutes of searching online she emailed me a link to a recipe that looked exactly like the cookies Grandma made.  I made them, and was thrilled to find that they also tasted exactly the way I remember.  I even rolled them into balls like Grandma did, and next time maybe I’ll make them with some fancy chocolate.

For now, I will just provide you with the link to the recipe on  I will have to tweak it (if any tweaking is even possible- it’s already so delicious!) and re-post in the future.  Once you make a batch, here’s the best thing to do:  take the cookies (or the whole box if you receive a box of cookies in the mail from your Grandmother), put on your best flannel pj’s and warm jackets, pile the whole family in the car, and drive around your neighborhood together, eating cookies and looking at Christmas lights.  This was my family’s tradition every year, and between the cookies and the Christmas lights, it’s no wonder I thought that box was pure magic.

Merry Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Happy New Year!

Love, Sarah

p.s. I wish I could have found photos of my brother and me in the car, in our pj’s, with the box.  If I was in Tampa, with plenty of time to search, I think I could have found something.  I asked my Dad, and he said we didn’t have any, but that “He could remember it like it was yesterday”.  Me too, Dad, me too! Maybe I’ll search next time I’m in FL and see if I can come up with something.  🙂

p.p.s.  Hey cousins- do any of you have special memories, photos, or traditions surrounding the Christmas cookie box from Grandma? Any special Christmas cookie recipes you want to send me to share next year?

Chocolate Kiss Cookies

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.