Each of us probably knows the dish called lecho. It is a type of vegetable ragout made of tomatoes, fresh pepper, fried onions, stewed in lard and seasoned with paprika powder. Lecho is known in many countries - it can often be found not only in Hungary (where, de facto, it comes from), but also in Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Ukraine, Austria, Germany or even in Israel!
A piece of Hungarian history
For Hungarians, lecho is a cult dish - an integral part of their national culinary heritage. Interestingly, there is no unambiguous version of the story about the origins of the legendary "lesco". Historians have been arguing so far, but some propose a practical solution to the problem and set the starting point for the historical moment when the key products for this dish were spread: paprika and tomato.
Peppers and tomatoes, although they are now part of everyday European life, came to the Old Continent from South America - so before Christopher Columbus (1492) there was neither a lecho, nor a tomato, nor an Italian penne all'arrabbiata. Their popularity in Europe also did not become a fact immediately - it took several centuries before they became popular. They were also not cheap, so at first they were consumed mainly by the nobility, only later paprika and tomato became more accessible to other social strata: petty nobility, townspeople and peasants.
Interestingly, powdered paprika became popular faster than raw paprika, in the 18th century. The demand for raw food grew in the following century, and only in the 1870s, thanks to Bulgarian gardeners, its cultivation became quite common. In fact, it wasn't until the beginning of the 20th century that the cultivation of peppers and tomatoes became widespread enough for a lecho to appear!
Lecho, i.e. pepper and tomato
The very word lecho comes from northern Hungary (today's Nograd) and meant a combination of pepper and tomato! With time, this name changed from the local dialect to common use, and the dish itself first appeared among the middle class, but quickly gained recognition among other social classes - even the richest.
What does classic Hungarian lecho look like? It is a vegetable stew with a little tomato sauce. Powdered paprika is added to it and the whole thing is fried in lard. The Hungarian version of the aleo allows you to add a little sausage, but it should only be paprika sausage. By definition, "lesco" is an addition to meat, not a main course.
Lecho in other regions
Lecho quickly found its way not only to the tables of nobility and peasants. They were quickly borrowed from Hungarians in other regions of Europe, which is still visible today. However, some modifications have been made to each area and in some parts of the Old Continent it is quite different from the original Hungarian.
The worldwide popularity of lecho began in the 1930s, when the processing industry and canning production developed. Because they greatly facilitated the preparation of this dish.
Lecho is very popular in Poland, for example, although Poles themselves do not realize that their version of lecho sometimes looks more like French ratatouille than Hungarian lesco. In the country on the Vistula River, aleo much more often has a large addition of meat and is a dish in itself, which largely distinguishes it from the original.
How is it in other countries?
It is even different in other areas of the world. French lecho is much less dense than the original lesco and is a vegetable stew made with seasonal summer vegetables. The most common dishes are squash, eggplant, zucchini, garlic and onion. Meat is not added to the dish.
The Russian variety of heal, like the Polish one, usually contains meat. Most often it is a sausage or chicken fillet. Interestingly, Russians often close the prepared lecho in jars and put it in the cellar for later use, along with other preserves.
A very minimalist version of heal is consumed by Armenians. It does not contain meat or vegetable additives and is a sauce of tomatoes, peppers with the addition of parsley and aromatic spices. Armenian lecho can be eaten on its own (as a separate dish) or as an addition to other dishes: groats, rice or pasta.
Have you ever tried an original Hungarian lecho? Or maybe you are interested in other versions of this iconic, although quite young, Hungarian dish? Maybe instead of the traditional Polish lecho with sausage, you will be tempted to prepare a light, Armenian version? Or maybe you will try to pack the lecho in jars, following the example of Russian home chefs?