Cooking Like Grandma--well, Almost


August 14, 1991|By Charlyne Varkonyi

Food is more to most of us than just taste. We eat a dish that reminds us of our past and suddenly we are magically transported to a romantic restaurant, the high school cafeteria or Grandma's kitchen.

No dish transports me to my past better than Grandma's Paprikas Chicken. Way before I knew a saute from a satay, I remember watching Grandma at her old coal stove patiently producing what will always be my benchmark. No matter who has made the dish since -- from the best Hungarian restaurant to my mother -- no one has been able to equal Grandma's.

Translating Grandma's recipes has always been difficult because she spoke very little English and I have forgotten all the Hungarian that I learned when I was a child. Nothing was written down so I have had to depend on taste memories and old cookbooks.

Grandma Varkonyi's Paprikas Chicken always had more depth of flavor than the others I have tasted and the recipes that I have tried, including one that was supposed to come from her. One of her secrets was lard -- an ingredient that we since have axed from our ingredient lists. But it wasn't until I was looking at an old Hungarian recipe book that I discovered another key that helps bring together the flavors of this Fastlane Feast adaptation.

The magic ingredient? Cloves. My version differs from Grandma's in a few ways, but it retains the spirit of her beautiful dish. Of course, it takes a lot less time to cook in order to fit in our 30-minutes-or-less format. I have pureed the onions in a food processor, added mushrooms and a tablespoon of chicken broth concentrate to pump up the flavor. And instead of sour cream, I have substituted "light" sour cream with one-third fewer calories and two-thirds less fat. Serve the dish with a green salad and the dressing of your choice and French bread to sop up the sauce.

Items you should have in your pantry include: salt, butter, vegetable oil, pepper, 1 yellow onion, sweet Hungarian paprika, ground cloves, chicken broth, flour, salad greens and salad dressing.

Your 10-item-or-less shopping list should include:

* 12 ounces rainbow rotini (tomato, spinach and plain) or egg noodles

* 1 pound chicken breasts, boneless and skinless and 1 1/2 pounds chicken wings or any combination of chicken parts you wish

* 8 ounces white mushrooms

* 1 bottle chicken broth concentrate

* 16 ounces "light" sour cream

* French bread

Almost Grandma's paprikas chicken

Makes 4 servings.

1 tablespoon salt

12 ounces rainbow rotini (tomato, spinach and plain) or egg noodles

3 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

salt and pepper, to taste

1 pound chicken breasts, boneless and skinless and 1 1/2 pounds chicken wings or any combination of chicken parts you wish

L 1 medium yellow onion, pureed in a blender or food processor

8 ounces white mushrooms, sliced

1 tablespoon sweet Hungarian paprika

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

2/3 cup chicken broth

1 tablespoon chicken broth concentrate

1 1/2 cups lite sour cream

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Put water on to boil for pasta in a large stock pot. Add 1 tablespoon salt and cook pasta.

Meanwhile, in a large frying pan, melt butter and vegetable oil. Salt and pepper both sides of chicken. Then fry chicken on medium high until brown on both sides and cooked through, about 10 to 12 minutes. Remove chicken and set aside to keep warm.

Add pureed onion, mushrooms, paprika, and cloves to frying pan and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Then add chicken broth and chicken broth concentrate. Return the chicken to the mixture and bring to boil.

In a small bowl, whisk the flour with the sour cream until the mixture is smooth. Remove chicken once again. Gradually stir in the sour cream. To serve, place noodles on the bottom and chicken on top. Serve sauce on the side so everyone can put on desired amount.

Starting Aug. 25, Fastlane Feast will run every other week in Maryland Kitchen.

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