Lecsó with cabanossi and mushrooms

A plate with chunks of boiled potato on one side, and saucy sausage with a dollop of sour cream on top on the other side

The potatoes started falling apart, but they tasted good anyway.

The other night, we picked up £6 worth of deli counter cabanossi sausages marked down to about £2 at the local Tesco–hard to pass up! The date was running out within a couple of days, so I put some of them in the freezer, and hit Google for inspiration on what to do with the rest besides snack on them or just serve them with potatoes and onions or something.

I ran across this translated recipe for “GF Letschko with potatoes and cabanossi (German GF brochure)“, which didn’t look too bad. It was a lot less confusing once I looked up what a Varoma is. 🙂 (Spanish site.) I don’t have one of those, nor really want one–but have skillet, will cook! I actually love lecsó, but had no idea what to call it, other than “that Hungarian tomato stuff”.

This, maybe unexpectedly outside the region, ties back in with Appalachian food. Large numbers of Hungarians were brought in to work in the coal mines in the late 19th and early 20th centuries (along with Sicilians and other Italians, and a number of other groups who ended up influencing regional food). From the linked page:

Central and East European immigrants were frequently brought to the United States as strikebreakers. Large industrial firms, unwilling to cede to the strikers’ demands of fewer hours, increased wages and/or safer working conditions, simply brought a shipload of immigrants from Europe to fill the striking workers’ jobs. The agents recruiting such workers were usually instructed to choose immigrants of many different national origins, so that it would be difficult to organize the newcomers because of language barriers.

As you can probably imagine, not many of these immigrants had any idea what kind of situation they were getting brought into. Peonage* was the mining companies’ preferred method of dealing with workers anyway, but the usually already heavily indebted for passage immigrant workers had even less recourse or protection.

The end result, for food blogging purposes? You got an awful lot of particularly Hungarian and Southern Italian dishes–and lots of fusion versions–incorporated into the local cuisine. And I wasn’t even sure what to call “that yummy Hungarian tomato stuff”. *shakes head* A lot of dishes from both sources probably looked even more tempting to adopt and adapt, with the heavy use of already-popular vegetables like tomatoes and peppers. I’ve thought the same with the popularity of Mexabilly (definitely more fusion than Mexican!): interestingly different ways of using and combining locally popular ingredients.

This pattern also led to one unintentionally darkly hilarious comment overheard at an extended family gathering. One of the sisters-in-law was complaining about the dish another one had brought: “My cabbage rolls are a lot better than Sheila’s! She uses too much rice and not enough meat.” Erm, yeah, Sheila learned to make hers from a Hungarian immigrant grandma who couldn’t afford as much meat. But, by that point, Snarky (Scots-Irish) Sister-in-Law apparently felt like that was one of her own native dishes, too.

This is an opportunity to mention a more recent fusion dish I ran across and am sooo tempted to turn out a gluten-free version of: Cowdery Farms Three Sisters Pizza. That post also includes a pretty good description of the Three Sisters planting method as used in the Ohio drainage, and some really nice photos showing how rich the river bottom fields can be. It’s making me want to try growing squash again here. 🙂

Back to the cooking. The most similar variations I’ve had to this lecsó with sausage dish were made with American “Polish Sausage” , usually not mushrooms, and with the potatoes mixed into the sauce. But, we had mushrooms to use up, and Mr. Sweden doesn’t like nearly as many cooked sweet peppers as I do, so the mushrooms helped make up the difference. 🙂 It worked well.

Lecsó with cabanossi and mushrooms

  • 2 tbsp. oil (I used sunflower)
  • Three medium onions, cut in half and sliced
  • Half a yellow sweet pepper, cut into bigger pieces (normally, I’d use the whole pepper and maybe another one of a different color)
  • About a pound (400-500g) cabanossi sausages, sliced thickly on the diagonal

Fry those ingredients together over medium heat, stirring every few minutes, until the onions are translucent and starting to brown a bit.

Add about 1/2 lb. (200-250g) of sliced mushrooms, and fry for a few more minutes, until they start to wilt. Then add seasonings:

  • 2 rounded tsp. good paprika
  • Ground black pepper to taste
  • Hot red pepper to taste, especially if your paprika is mild

Stir that around for 30 seconds to a minute, to release the flavor without scorching the paprika, then add:

  • A 14 oz. (400g) can of chopped tomatoes
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. dried marjoram

Let it simmer, covered, for 15-20 minutes, and serve with buttered boiled potatoes and a dollop of sour cream. Yum!


* I just can’t resist a nigh-unbelievable quote from the West Virginia Geological and Economic Survey’s History of West Virginia Mineral Industries – Coal article. I know the coal industry still has an awful lot of power, but it’s still hard to believe anybody is trying to put anything resembling a positive slant on this stuff now:

A coal company provided not only a job but a unique way of life for West Virginia miners and their families. Since most of the mines were located too far from established towns, the coal companies built their own towns and provided inexpensive homes, a company store, a church, and often recreation facilities for the miners and their families. Because of the need for daily supplies from the company store, a simplified method of bookkeeping was established, using coal scrip. The earliest coal scrip (tokens) dates back to about 1883. Miners could get advanced credit on their earned wages (in scrip) to pay for daily necessities at the company store. This use of coal company scrip eliminated the need for the coal company to keep a large amount of U. S. currency on hand. Each mine had its own scrip symbols on the tokens, and these tokens could only be used at the local company store.

A “unique way of life” is one way to describe keeping your workers deeply indebted to the company, trying to control every aspect of their lives, and refusing to pay them in real money. *headdesk* That’s usually called peonage (since it stops just short of actual chattel slavery), and is illegal for a variety of reasons. Most of my own relatives in the WV/KY/VA coalfields preferred working for the railroad (and/or the “Copperhead Road” approach) to going to work in the mines, but not everybody had that dubiously more dignified option available–especially not the immigrant workers, nor people who had lost all their land to mining companies. A lot of the 19th century Welsh and Scottish miners in particular, mentioned in the next paragraph there, were flat-out illegally indentured, and some got deported when they complained about conditions.

Apparently, in the early 20th century, “there were so many Italians in the Mountain State that for many years an official of the Italian government was stationed in Fairmont, West Virginia, to look after their interests.”# I didn’t know that.

Again, not a lot of people outside the region know about this history, and I feel a responsibility to talk about it and to acknowledge some of these immigrants’ contributions.


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