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Hungarian peppers: a walk on the lighter side

They tumble out of farmers market crates entwined in pairs like folk dancers, elongated necks extending from slender, bell-shaped pods. Hungarian peppers, ranging in color from soft butter yellows to radiant greens, are back for their annual summer fling.

Lighter and more delicate than bell peppers, Hungarian are on the sweet side, with none of the punch of a poblano. Cut them up one night to add a subtle crunch to summer salads, stuff them with a garden of sautéed vegetables the next. Lightly simmered in a fresh tomato stew or simply sliced and served raw, their bright flavor is versatile enough to work into a variety of favorite summer dishes.

Part of the Hungarian pepper's charm is that with its less assertive taste and thinner flesh, it responds well to quick cooking on the grill. Quartered and grilled until crisp-tender, the palm-sized pods gain a smoky sweetness that gives definition to chicken salad that's wonderful when made with Hungarian paprika and small riso or orzo (rice-sized pasta).

The salad components can be prepared ahead and assembled just before serving. When you're ready to serve, fold several handfuls of torn romaine leaves and blanched green beans into grilled lemon-scented chicken. Serve with körözött, a Hungarian caraway-cream cheese spread, lightened in this recipe with cottage cheese. It ages beautifully over several weeks, lending its anise scent to morning bagels or late afternoon rye toasts -- spread and sprinkle with freshly diced peppers.

Use Hungarian peppers to bolster a summery version of lecsó, a traditional stew brimming with peak-of-season tomatoes. Trade the classic sausages and potatoes for a small handful of diced, meaty Hungarian kolozsvári (bacon), or any good-quality, lightly smoked bacon to add complexity without too much heft.

Save the pan drippings to sauté sweet onions, add the peppers and tomatoes (the juicier the better; if your tomatoes are too dry, add a few splashes of water), and cook until the paprika-laced sauce is simmering with peppery sweetness. Spoon it over a steaming bowl of rice, shower the lecsó with chopped parsley, and pull out a crusty baguette to sop up the last few drops.

In Hungary, tölteni való paprika ("peppers for stuffing") earned their name from the meat fillings they're so closely associated with -- but they're even more seductive brimming with multicolored squash, sweet corn and earthy mushrooms.

Halve the peppers, being careful to leave the base and stems intact, and blanch until the peppers are tender but still hold their shape. Fill with lightly sautéed vegetables, sprinkle with fragrant basil and bread crumbs seasoned with dill, and bake until golden brown. Serve on a sea of fresh tomato basil sauce.

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