In 1921, there were 8,900 Hungarians living in Saskatchewan. By the census of 2006, there were 27,400 people claiming Hungarian descent. That's a lot of paprika, red peppers and poppy seeds. The early arrivals came on the promise of free farmland and freedom from oppressive landlords. In the 1950s, they came seeking freedom from Communism.
Tibor "Ted" Kiss was 23 years old during the October Revolution of 1956, when the Soviet army rolled into Hungary to put down a movement for democratic reforms. More than 200,000 Hungarians fled their country. Seeing a small window of opportunity, Kiss and his parents left everything behind and made a daring dash for the Austrian border in the dark of night. "We left in a snowstorm so our tracks would be covered over," he says. "Russian soldiers were ordered to shoot to kill. Thank god we made it."
They joined his grandparents already living in Ontario, then moved to Beechy, Sask., where Kiss began training with the Credit Union. He managed the branch at Paradise Hill, where he met his wife, Faye. She learned to cook traditional dishes from her mother in law, including Hungarian cakes, cottage cheese biscuits, cabbage rolls and lescό (le-sho), a summer stew redolent with peppers, tomatoes and paprika.
At first, it was hard to find red peppers in Saskatchewan, and the paprika was sent to them from Ontario, but today it's easy to recreate the flavours of Hungary here on the prairies.
Lecsό - Pepper, Tomato and Sausage Stew
3 tbsp bacon fat or 2 tbsp oil
3 red peppers
3 yellow peppers
1 green pepper
3 medium onions
1 fresh tomato
1 can whole stewed tomatoes (398 ml)
2 tsp sweet Hungarian paprika
1 dash hot Hungarian paprika
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 cup water
1 lb Hungarian sausage (Kolbasz) or other smoked sausage
In a heavy sauté pan or Dutch oven, heat bacon fat or oil on high heat. Core and devein all peppers and cut into strips. Cut onions into wedges. Sauté onions and peppers until cooked but still firm, 6-8 minutes. Do not overcook; peppers should remain intact and brightly coloured. Add tomatoes, seasonings, sugar and water.
Slice sausage on the diagonal. Add to the pot and simmer until the flavours are melded, about 4-6 minutes. Serve with rice, boiled potatoes and/or fresh bread.
(This article first appeared in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.)