My father lived as an American citizen for more than five decades, but his appetite stayed firmly attached to the cuisine of his native Hungary. He passed on pizza, hamburgers, French fries and remained faithful to the flavors of pork fat, sour cream and paprika his entire life.
My mother tried her best to please him with a diet of meat and potatoes à la Indianapolis, her home town. Much later, I would drive to Chicago's only Hungarian butcher on the far north side to purchase fresh blood sausage and other cuts of meat we had enjoyed on a family trip to Budapest in 1985. I learned to prepare his favorite dishes, but my heart wasn't in it.
A search in my Hungarian cookbooks for something healthful left me feeling trapped in a culinary time warp. How was I going to make a meal that was both easily digestible and consistent with a cuisine that boiled and blanketed vegetables in a heavy white sauce? Even Hungarian salad recipes produced sad, limp layers of sliced cucumbers swimming in flavorless oil, vinegar and sugar dressing.
The late, great Gourmet Magazine came to my rescue one summer when it published a chilled green bean soup that proved Hungarian cuisine could shake off its heavy winter coat to reveal a sleek, shapely figure. What set this soup apart from others was the way its delicate balance of sweet and sour flavors complemented the beans. The recipe included the obligatory cup of sour cream, but its richness was muted and welcome in this water-based soup. The beans, cooked al dente, offered a satisfying crunch.
This clean, elegant formula with its refreshing taste, as you may imagine, has made it a family favorite. Now my father's great-grandchildren enjoy it every summer. I consider it my contribution to our culinary heritage.