Archives for category: Soups

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!


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.

Our recent trip to the Maryland Renaissance Festival, plus the gorgeous cool fall weather rolling in, combined with my not-so-gorgeous fall cold, has got me on a serious soup kick.  It’s been weeks, and soup is all I want (the cool new soup bowls we picked up at Ren Fest aren’t helping the matter).  Of course, the best most comforting soup in the world- especially when you’re sick- is chicken noodle, and I think Hungarian Goulash is like chicken noodle soup on crack.  It’s more of a hearty stew, and it still has the traditional onions, carrots, and celery; but instead of “chicken” it has “beef” (which in the imitation meat world are more or less the same thing, but I digress…), instead of egg noodles it has noodle-y dumplings, and on top of that, it has POTATOES and lots, lots, lots of PAPRIKA.  Could anything be more delicious?

Onions + Seitan + Paprika

The answer, my friends, is no.  It is supreme deliciousness.  And best of all, it is easy to make.  So far, all the traditional Hungarian recipes I have shared with you have involved making tricky pastry dough, and may have been mildly intimidating.  But there isn’t any pastry dough here, just some simple noodle-dumplings.  That’s the hardest part, and it’s not hard!

The finished dough

I seriously encourage you to try this recipe TONIGHT.  Not tomorrow night, not next week- TONIGHT.  I am so happy with how it turned out that I did a little jig.  I think Grandma would have been proud.  This also happens to be one of the first recipes I have ever created myself, and I think that in itself is cool.  The fact that my vegetarian version of Goulash tastes fairly authentic is even cooler.

Right after I finished adding the noodles/dumplings

In the Hungarian recipe book, A Taste of Hungary, it says that “These recipes have not been laboratory tested, but their merit has been approved by the most critical of groups- HUNGARIAN HUSBANDS.”  I do not have a Hungarian husband, but I do have a first generation American-born Hungarian father.  So now I just have to wait until November, when my parents visit, for the true test: feeding this vegetarian version to him!

My Dad and Grandma, circa 1970's(?)

Last but not least, I humbly ask you for your honest feedback on this recipe.  Tell me what you liked; tell me what you would change.  Tell me how it compares to meat Goulash.  Tell me if the directions were easy to follow.  Tell me EVERYTHING!  Misha and I felt that the texture of the seitan might be a bit off for this dish, and that maybe next time I should try making it with Lightlife’s Seasoned “Beef” Strips.  I felt that it could use double the amount of dumplings.  Misha added the smoked sea salt and it really brought out a meatier flavor.  Just please share anything and everything you think with me, and together we can perfect this vegetarian Goulash!

Grandma Elek’s Hungarian Goulash

16 oz. cubed seitan (I used two 8 oz packages of the West Soy brand cubed seitan)

1 large sweet onion, chopped

4 carrots, sliced

4 stalks celery, sliced

2 medium golden potatoes, diced (I used 3 smaller potatoes- it’s up to you!)

Parsley, chopped fine (Note added on 11/9/11: If you can find parsley root, use it as well- it is a traditional ingredient that is hard to find these days, and will give your goulash a truly authentic, deep flavor!)

Sweet Hungarian Paprika (Get authentic Hungarian paprika- Szego Szeged brand is inexpensive and easy to find)

Organic Better than Bouillon Vegetable Base

3 tablespoons olive oil

Smoked sea salt (if you can get it)


For noodles/dumplings:

1 egg

½ tsp. salt

About 2 cups of all-purpose flour

In a large pot, sauté the onions in olive oil until transparent.  Add the seitan, along with any juices that are in the packaging.  COVER the onions and seitan in paprika- be generous- the more paprika, the better.  Add about a half a cup of water and let simmer for 3-5 minutes.

Add the vegetables, the parsley, 2 quarts of water, and 3 tablespoons of bouillon, stirring everything together.  Turn the heat to high, cover, and let come to a boil.

While the pot is heating, make the dough for the noodles.  Beat the egg and salt together in a medium size bowl.  Start adding flour, beating in between, until a solid dough forms.  Keep adding flour until you can handle the dough without too much sticking.

Once the pot has come to a boil, start pinching small pieces of dough off, rolling them into little balls, and adding them to the pot.  They should be about the size of your fingertip.  Keep adding them until you run out of dough.  Cook slowly until the noodles/dumplings taste done but not mushy.  Add smoked sea salt (or regular salt if you can’t get the smoked variety) and pepper to taste.  Store leftovers in the refrigerator- tastes even better the next day!

I’m feeling super guilty- it’s been almost a MONTH since my last post!  You all must have begun to wonder if I was ever coming back.  In my defense, it has truly been a crazy month.  In my last post, I mentioned that we had to move due to a huge maintenance issue.  Since Misha and I moved into our apartment in October of 2010, we have had these pests called “drain flies,” flitting around being gross and multiplying before our eyes.  I think they are the second most obnoxious house pest anyone could ever have to deal with (with bedbugs being #1, of course).  Unlike bedbugs, they don’t bite, but they are similarly impossible to get rid of.  They can only live and breed somewhere where there is a broken or clogged pipe/seal, and if you find what’s causing them and fix it they’ll disappear.  The trick is finding what’s causing them, which took our maintenance group a year (with lots of aggravated prodding from us), and resulted in them telling us “There’s a broken pipe under your apartment, and we’ll have to tear up the floors to fix it, so we have to move you [read: we have to move]”.  So, long story short, this has been the month of packing and moving.  The easy part was that we moved in right next door to our old place; the hard part was moving (ha, ha).  Is there anything more stressful than thinking about moving? Oh yeah, moving.  SOOOOOOooo….

So, stress + work + moving= not blogging.  I’m going to try to remember not to lump those three things together again anytime soon, so that I don’t end up missing four weeks of sharing fun Hungarian recipes with all of you!

Somehow, in the midst of all the moving drama, we managed to join Misha’s family and thirty of their closest family friends on a mountaintop in Pennsylvania called Blue Ridge Summit.  They all go every year, and it’s a fun and beautiful weekend packed with hiking, biking, swimming, and lots of cooking and general fellowship.  While there we hiked a small section of the Appalacian Trail, and it was COVERED in mushrooms- every size, shape, and color was represented.  It was absolutely incredible.  For meals, each family that comes has to pick a meal to serve for everyone, so for Sunday lunch we volunteered to make one of my favorite soups of all time:  Portabella Mushroom and Lentil Soup.

Now, let’s be clear here: this recipe is not exactly Hungarian.  Ok, it’s not really Hungarian at all.  It is just what I happen to be making and craving at the moment.  Some weeks I just don’t get around to cooking or baking Hungarian, and I still want to be able to share recipes with you even if they’re not Hungarian (there will be more on that topic in a later post!).  The best thing about sharing this soup recipe with you is that it does have a Hungarian connection, even if it’s slim.  Soups of all sorts are a very common Hungarian meal, and there is even a Hungarian Mushroom soup (Grandma has her own recipe for it, I believe- maybe I’ll make that next week?).

This soup is also just incredibly delicious.  I got the recipe from a neighbor years and years ago, and it never fails to disappoint.  When the air starts to turn cool and cold rain is falling on colored leaves, this soup is the perfect heart warmer.   It has very simple ingredients and preparation, and is cheap and quick to make.  The hearty, meat-like portabellas are low in calories and sodium and high in fiber.  This soup is also a step better than vegetarian- it’s vegan!  Yup, this is one of the only meals I make and love where cheese is not necessary, or even missed.  A little salt and pepper and a French or Country Wheat baguette with butter and I am SET.  Also, feeds a crowd quite well- and they’ll NEVER miss the meat with this one!

Portabella Mushroom and Lentil Soup

About 2 tablespoons olive oil

3-5 cloves of garlic, minced

1 medium yellow onion, chopped

4 large portabella mushroom caps, chopped

1 can diced tomatoes, with their juices (this is supposed to be a normal sized can.  You can always add more tomatoes though, and fresh cherry tomatoes crushed with a potato masher are great in it too)

1 cup dried brown lentils

5 cups vegetable broth

Salt and pepper to taste

Parsley if desired


Heat olive oil in a large saucepan (about six quarts).  Add garlic and onion and sauté until the onions become soft and transparent, about 3 minutes.  Add portabellas (you may need to add a bit more oil as well) and sauté until they begin to release their juices, about 5 minutes.  Add the tomatoes, lentils, and vegetable broth.  Bring to a boil, and then turn the heat to low and simmer for about an hour, or until soup thickens.  Add salt and pepper to taste, and garnish with parsley if desired.  Serves well with bread and butter.  Easily doubled or tripled to feed a large group.