Eva Gabor’s Piperade for Two
It’s February over here at Cooking with the Stars, and this month gave me the perfect opportunity to honor a family that I truly admire in film, food, and beyond: the glamorous Gabors! Specifically, I’m paying tribute to the incredible Eva Gabor by highlighting her fascinating life while also testing out her traditional Hungarian piperade recipe. But why Eva, you may ask? For one thing, when I think of February I immediately think of Valentine’s Day, which just so happens to be one of my favorite days of the year. As someone who cooks a great deal, I can think of few things that are more romantic than a meal specifically made for two. In addition, I knew that I couldn’t allow February to pass me by without honoring Eva Gabor, because February 11th marked what would have been her 100th birthday! Sure, the occasion might have passed by this month without much fanfare, but through the years I’ve grown to admire the beauty, perseverance, and lifestyle of Eva along with her gorgeous sisters, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to celebrate her birthday in the best way that I know how. Read on to discover what an exceptional lady our star of the day was and to learn all about how you can whip up some of her delicious piperade at home!
Eva Gabor was born on February 11, 1919 in Budapest, Hungary to Vilmos Gábor, a soldier, and his wife Jolie, a revered jeweler. She was the youngest of three breathtaking and talented daughters, the oldest being Magda, born June 11, 1915, followed by my personal favorite Gabor sister Zsa Zsa, born February 6, 1917. With each pregnancy, both Vilmos and Jolie desperately wished for a boy. As half of a loveless marriage, Jolie’s heart sank after finding out that Magda and Zsa Zsa were both daughters, but Eva’s birth changed her mother’s outlook. “My spirits improved when I stared into the face of my baby,” Jolie later recalled. “If it were a girl, I had already decided to call her Eva. She was beautiful, far more beautiful than Magda or Zsa Zsa.” Jolie had always craved a career on the stage, but after Eva’s birth, she realized that at age twenty-three and with a husband and three children to care for, her aspirations of becoming an actress were out of reach. She decided to seek a new role in life: to fashion her daughters into the three most famous women in the world. “I wanted Magda, Zsa Zsa, and Eva to do everything, have all sorts of experiences, grand or small — lovers, rich husbands, diamonds, rubies, emeralds, mink coats, palaces. I wanted them to grow up and leave Hungary and conquer London, Paris, New York, Hollywood. If they did not manage to marry a king, then a prince might do, certainly a count, earl, or duke if all else fails.”
From near infancy, Magda, Zsa Zsa, and Eva took all sorts of lessons, including piano, singing, ballet, horseback riding, and tennis, while also becoming fluent in French, German, and English in addition to their native Hungarian. Eva delighted her mother when she displayed an early desire to become an actress, idolizing film and opera star Grace Moore in particular. She dreamed of the day when a tall, blonde American would marry her and take her to the United States so she could become a star. Her first husband wasn’t quite the king or earl that mother Jolie had hoped for, but Dr. Erich Valdemar Drimmer, a Swedish osteopath with celebrity clients like Greta Garbo, succeeded in whisking her away to Hollywood, making Eva the first of her family to leave Hungary at age twenty. It didn’t take long for her to be noticed by Paramount Studios, who gave her minor roles throughout the forties in various films like Forced Landing (1941) and Star-Spangled Rhythm (1942), but her parts were insignificant and infrequent for the most part until 1953, when she was chosen to host her own talk show, The Eva Gabor Show (1953-54), which lasted a full season. By the mid-fifties Eva’s grand demeanor, voice, and appearance became better suited for the grand Technicolor pictures of the time and she finally began enjoying success in film, lending her talents to memorable leading and supporting roles in The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954) with Elizabeth Taylor and Van Johnson, Artists and Models (1955) with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, and the iconic musical Gigi (1958), which won nine Academy Awards.
Eva and Eddie Albert in a promotional photo for Green Acres, Eva’s biggest success on the small screen.
But Eva Gabor’s biggest success would come later in life after beating out the likes of Marsha Hunt and Janet Blair for the role of Lisa Douglas in Green Acres (1965-71), one of the most beloved television sitcoms of all time. The show, which depicted a wealthy couple from New York who leaves their comfortable life behind to live on a farm, ran for six seasons before its shocking cancellation in 1971. That still wasn’t the end of Eva’s varied and successful career, however, as she later gained popularity as herself by famously introducing the world to the board game Twister on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in 1966 and with her regular appearances on Match Game (1977-81). The actress even had the opportunity to appeal to younger audiences through her work with Disney, providing the voice of not one, but two classic Disney characters: Duchess, the prim and proper feline in The Aristocats (1970), and the heroic Miss Bianca in The Rescuers (1977). She continued to enjoy continuous on and offscreen work in the decades that followed before passing away on July 4, 1995 at age seventy-five due to complications from a fall. To this day, she’s considered by most to be the loveliest and most popular of the infamous Gabor sisters, as well as the finest actress of the three. Even Eva herself said later in life, “I was the first actress in the family, and I am still the only actress in the family.”
Eva Gabor’s Piperade for Two
- ½ cup julienne strips leftover ham or sliced Italian salami
- 2 tablespoons olive oil or butter
- 1 green pepper, thinly sliced
- 1 small yellow onion, peeled and sliced
- 3 ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
- 4 eggs
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- Hungarian paprika
- Brown ham lightly in olive oil (or butter); remove and set aside.
- Add pepper and onion to the same skillet, cook over medium heat until vegetables are partially soft.
- Add tomatoes, garlic and seasonings, and simmer until sauce becomes a soft, mushy purée.
- Beat eggs lightly and gently stir into hot tomato sauce. Stir, but do not overcook. The omelet should be wet and soft like scrambled eggs.
- Top with ham sprinkled lightly with Hungarian paprika and serve with triangles of fried toast.
Over the years, my admiration for the Gabor sisters has led me to develop an affinity for Hungarian cuisine. This isn’t the first time that I’ve tried a traditional Hungarian dish à la Gabor, and I certainly hope that it won’t be the last. It’s interesting to learn more about not only various cultures and food through classic film recipes, but little nuances within the classic movie stars as well. For instance, nearly every Gabor recipe that I’ve tried, be it Eva or Zsa Zsa, fails to specify what type of “green pepper” is required for their dishes. Through my research about both ladies, when Zsa Zsa mentions green peppers in a dish, she’s usually referring to Hungarian wax peppers. This species is surprisingly accessible in American grocery stores and possesses a medium level of heat, yet when I looked into the customary preparations for piperade it seems that it almost always contains green bell peppers, which is what I used here. Perhaps great sisters don’t always think alike! No matter what variety of pepper is used, I absolutely adore this dish. It’s not mind-blowing per se, but it’s simple and delicious. Eva’s recipe keeps the preparation time and number of ingredients to a minimum while still not sacrificing flavor. What’s even better is that it serves exactly the amount that it states, perfectly filling two bowls and keeping me full for quite some time. Any recipe that can fulfill so many claims is a winner in my book, though my boyfriend was less than impressed by the dish. He’s a notoriously picky eater, and he’s grown so used to me whipping up my own recipe for goulash at home that he believed the piperade was a repeat of all of those similar flavors with a worse texture. I still give Eva Gabor’s piperade an enthusiastic four out of five Vincents, and I encourage everyone to give their most glamorous Gabor impression while also giving this dish a try this at home. It’s absolutely marvelous, dahling!
Cooking with the Stars Recipe Rating – 4 out of 5 Vincents:
–Samantha Ellis for Classic Movie Hub
Samantha resides in West Chester, Pennsylvania and is the author of Musings of a Classic Film Addict, a blog that sheds light on Hollywood films and filmmakers from the 1930s through the 1960s. Her favorite column that she pens for her blog is Cooking with the Stars, for which she tests and reviews the personal recipes of stars from Hollywood’s golden age. When she isn’t in the kitchen, Samantha also lends her voice and classic film knowledge as cohost of the Ticklish Business podcast alongside Kristen Lopez and Drea Clark, and proudly serves as President of TCM Backlot’s Philadelphia Chapter. You can catch up with her work by following her @classicfilmgeek on Twitter.