Impletata, or, Dracula and the Fear of the “Other”

I had for breakfast more paprika, and a sort of porridge of maize flour which they said was “mamaliga,” and egg-plant stuffed with forcemeat, a very excellent dish, which they call “impletata.”

                          -from Chapter 1 of Dracula by Bram Stoker: Jonathan Harker’s Journal, kept in shorthand

This year, before reading the first chapter of Dracula, I asked my students to think about whether or not they like Jonathan Harker as a person.  It turns out, not very many of them did.  They thought he acts too superior.  Harker is the worst kind of tourist, the kind of tourist who describes both the mountain landscape and the humans who live in it as “picturesque.”  Also, he’s always collecting recipes for his absent fiance, Mina, to cook for him in his memoranda, which rubs some of the girls the wrong way.

Jonathan Harker is British, and Count Dracula is Romanian.  Harker is a representative of one of the most successful colonial empires at the height of its power, and Count Dracula is based off of the Romanian folk hero, Vlad Tepes, a fierce Wallachian fighter who struggled to stave off the threat of Turkish invaders as they tried to assimilate Transylvania into the Ottoman Empire.  Long before Bram Stoker actually demonized him, the West was already vilifying Vlad Tepes.  We call him Vlad the Impaler because he stuck human bodies on stakes and allowed gravity to slowly kill them.  The Romanians call him a hero because those bodies belonged to Ottoman Turks.

1499 German Woodcut depicting Vlad’s impaled victims.

Gothic literature typically wrestles with the idea of power– who has it, who wants it, and the power hidden within vulnerability.  On one hand, Dracula has power.  He is a predator who can control nature, live forever, and come into women’s bedrooms at night to slowly suck them dry.  On the other hand, Dracula has no power.  He is an outsider, and he isn’t just attacking Jonathan Harker, he is attacking the British empire and invading London.  And he fails.

From the Cuisine of Hungry by George Lang.

But, it’s hard to completely condemn Jonathan Harker, possibly because I am too much like him.  I go to other countries and get excited about the food.  I conscientiously try to not be the worst kind of tourist- the invading, condescending, dehumanizing kind of tourist, but I have no idea how successful I am at the end of the day.  I crawl around the globe like a fly on an orange, and my world is enlarged and my mind is opened to the diversity of this strange and beautiful world, but I am never really sure what kind of effect I have on the places that I’m whirling through.  Maybe a good effect, maybe no effect, maybe a bad effect.

“The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters” Caprichio #5 by Goya. From Leonard Wolf’s Annotated Dracula.

 

I don’t think Jonathan Harker was trying to be horrible as he marched East, but the clarifying passage of time has revealed him to be so.   Sometimes I wonder what the passage of time will reveal about my own generation’s globetrotting shenanigans.  My wonderings don’t mean I’m not going to travel the world- I’m taking a troop a students to Japan in March.  But my wonderings do mean that I’m going to be thinking, thinking about the implications of my actions and the effect that I have on the world around me as I move through it.  And I’m going to teach my students to think.  Which was always the goal all along, after all.

Also, whatever recipes I stumble along in my travels, I will make myself.  In the meantime, I’m going to attempt Jonathan’s impletata and give poor Mina a break.  Unlike paprika hendl, impletata is not a real name for a dish.  Bram Stoker was a researcher who took advantage of the British Library, not a tourist, so most of his sources are pretty transparent, and, as I learned from Colonel Mustard, most of his facts came from The Land Beyond the Forest by E. Gerard.  But no one really knows what Stoker was talking about with “impletata.”  Colonel Mustard has his interpretation, and Leonard Wolf, the Transylvanian annotator of the best edition of Dracula ever, decided it was possibly “patlagele impulute,” and gives a recipe for that.  After googling forcemeat, and discovering that it is a mixture of ground meat and vegetables, I just decided to take it from there and give myself a little freedom.  So the following is my recipe for impletata, inspired by Harker, Stoker, Mustard, Wolf, and Romania, but created by me.

Impletata

  • 2 eggplants
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 6 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 pound ground beef or lamb
  • 4 tomatoes, diced
  • 1 cup of spinach
  • The leaves of 10 or so sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 1/4 cup of Hungarian paprika
  • A few tablespoons of pinenuts
  • feta for crumbling, Bulgarian if you can find it
  • Several tablespoons of olive oil
  • A couple of pats of butter

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Wash and slice the eggplant in half and brush the sides in olive oil.  Salt and pepper the eggplant flesh, and place face down on a baking sheet.  Bake until done, about 20 minutes or so depending on the size of the eggplant.  Meanwhile, saute the onions in half butter, half olive oil.  Add the garlic, saute a little longer.  Then add the ground beef, and cook until the meat is browned.  Add the tomatoes, thyme, paprika, and cook until the liquid from the tomatoes has reduced and thickened.  When the eggplants are cooked, remove them from the oven and let them cool.  Cut out the flesh from the eggplant halves with a paring knife, chop up the flesh and add it, along with the spinach and pinenuts to the beef mixture.  Fill the four empty eggplant shells with the beef mixture and sprinkle a good amount of feta over the top.  Cook in the 400 degree oven for ten minutes or so.  Remove the shells from the oven, let them cool, and them serve.

 

Paprika Hendl, or, Dracula and the Morality of Hunger

As an English teacher, I read many books over and over again in my classroom.  I find that I can categorize all the literature I teach in my classroom into these groupings:

  1. The literature that breaks down and reveals itself as paper-thin trash after a few readings.*
  2. The literature that unfolds layer after layer of richness with each reading.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula is one of the good ones, one of those books of such complexity that I learn new things each time I encounter the text.  Just one example of this is the way Bram Stoker writes about food.  Take this little gem from the first few pages of Jonathan Harker’s journal:

We left in pretty good time, and  came after nightfall to Klausenburgh.  Here I stopped for the night at the Hotel Royale.  I have for dinner, or rather supper, a chicken done up in some way with red pepper, which was very good but thirsty. (Mem., get recipe for Mina.)  I asked the waiter, and he said it was called “paprika hendl,” and that, as it was a national dish, I should be able to get it anywhere along the Carpathians.

I am by no means the first reader of Dracula who became hungry for paprika hendl.  Others have tread this ground before me, the best of these being this guy.  As Mr. Tasunka Witko pointed out back in 2010, the word “hendl” is not Romanian.  It’s the Austro-Bavarian word for chicken.  The German language was brought to Dracula’s backyard by the Transylvanian Saxons in the 12th century.

 

Leonard Wolf gives an account of a recipe for Paprika Hendl in his Annotated Dracula:

Well then, reader, if ever you travel in Hungary, and want a dinner or supper quickly, never mind the variety of dishes your host names, but fix at once on paprika hendl.  Two minutes afterwards, you will hear signs of a revolution in the basse cur; the cocks and hens are in alarm; one or two of the largest, and probably oldest member of their unfortunate little community, are seized their necks wrung, and while yet fluttering, immersed in boiling water.  Their coats and skins come off at once; a few unmentionable preparatory operations are rapidly despatched- probably under the traveler’s immediate observation- the wretches are cut into pieces, thrown into a pot, with water, butter, flour, cream, and an inordinate quantity of red pepper,or paprika, and, very shortly after, a number of bits of fowl are seen swimming in a dish of hot greasy gravy, quite delightful to think of.

 

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Here is my rendition.  This recipe fed six people happily.

 

 

Paprika Hendl

 

You will need:

  • 1 whole chicken (about 4 pounds)
  • 6 or so chicken thighs or legs
  • 4 ripe tomatoes
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 celery ribs
  • 2 yellow onions, diced
  • 9 cloves of garlic, smashed and peeled
  • 3/4 cup Sweet Hungarian Paprika
  • 4-5 tablespoons of butter
  • a few tablespoons peanut oil
  • 2 tablespoons of flour
  • An entire 24 ounce container of full-fat sour cream
  • salt
  • black pepper

Butcher the chicken. **  Keep the skin on.  Place the butchered chicken and the chicken thighs in a stock pot, and cover with cold water.  Bring the water to a boil, then lower the temperature on the stove to medium-low.  You want the liquid to be simmering.  Remove the white foam and scum from the top of the stock periodically as it escapes from the chicken.  Simmer until the chicken is done, about 1.5-2 hours.

Meanwhile, juice your tomatoes, carrots, and celery.  If you have a jalapeno or two laying around, throw it on in.  If you aren’t blessed with a juicer, you can substitute 6 cups of V8 or canned tomato juice.

When the chicken is done, remove it from the stock.  Reserve the stock for another delicious day, and heat up the peanut oil in a Dutch oven or other heavy pot.  Brown the skin of the chicken on medium-high heat.  Set the chicken aside.

To make the sauce, add the butter to Dutch oven and saute the diced onions on medium heat until they begin to carmelize.  Lower the heat to medium low, and add the crushed garlic.  After 2-4 minutes, add ALL OF THE PAPRIKA and stir for 60 seconds or so.  Stir in the tomato juice, and bring the heat back up to medium high.  Put the chicken back in the pot, and simmer for 30-45 minutes.

Stir the flour into ALL OF THE SOUR CREAM.  Remove the chicken from the pot, remove the sauce from the heat, and stir in the sour cream.  Bring the sauce to a simmer and put the chicken back in the pot.  Serve with crusty bread, roasted or mashed potatoes, or spaetzle.  Also, an Oregon Pinot Noir wouldn’t go amiss.

 


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This is a delicious recipe, and if you poke around on google for a little while, you find other Dracula readers singing its praises.  Every once in a while, one of them will speculate about the reason for the existence of the recipe in the book.  For example, one of  Mr. Tasunka Witko’s commentators said, “…it would be interesting to know where that little excerpt came from and how it ended up in the book…”

Allow me, gentlemen.

I’m pretty sure that Bram Stoker unearthed the recipe during one of his marathon sessions researching at the British Museum.  Incidentally, the doors of the British Library are still open to today’s writers and searchers.  As for how it ended up in the book?  Well, Bram Stoker put it there.  Facts and details don’t just drift down from the heavens and insert themselves into text.  An author needs to consciously place these details into the text that he is crafting.  A more interesting question is this:  Why did Bram Stoker feel the need to include recipes in Dracula?

 

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Important, I think, is the fact that paprika hendl is bright red.  Blood red, in fact.  Also important is Stoker’s bizarre use of the word “thirsty” in the text.  According to the syntax, it is the chicken that is thirsty.  However, it seems that Jonathan means that eating the chicken made him thirsty.  All this happens before Dracula is introduced to the reader.  Stoker is drawing a parallel here between Jonathan and Dracula.  They are both carnivorous.***  Both Jonathan and Dracula consume once alive flesh to maintain their own existences.   As I’ve reread Dracula with my students this year, I’ve been trying to figure out what Stoker’s endgame is.  Is he saying that there is some kind of invisible line that separates ethical consumption like Jonathan’s from unethical consumption like Dracula’s?  Or is he saying that there is no such thing as ethical consumption?  Is Harker the same as Dracula?  The description of the chicken slaughter cited by Leonard Wolf above is at least as violent as Dracula’s most intense bloodsucking episodes.

Regardless, the effect of this parallel on the reader is that the sharp delineation between what makes a villain and what makes a hero begins to dissolve and become blurry around the edges. As Dracula becomes more understandable, Jonathan becomes more villainous.  And we become more villainous, too.  We kill what we eat.

Something to think about as you enjoy your delicious paprika hendl.  Personally, I’m more comfortable embracing Dracula as a kindred spirit than becoming a vegetarian.  But that’s just me.  Because I, too, am a predator.

 

 

 

*Don’t ever ask me about John Steinbeck unless you feel like being the victim of an overly-emotional rant.  No one should carry around within herself the amount of vitriolic contempt that I feel for The Pearl.  And my hatred grows with every reading.

** Fun fact: the word “butcher” can refer to slaughtering an animal, as Leonard Wolf points out above.  It can also refer to chopping the chicken into manageably eatable parts.  Here’s a photo-tutorial if you need some help.

***They are also both remarkably pushy to the ladies in their lives and afterlives.  Mem. make your own damn chicken, Jonathan.