To make goulash, good quality beef is cooked long and slow with garlic, onions, carrots, peppers, potatoes and Hungarian paprika to make a nutritious meal with a delightful flavour. It is relatively easy to make, and uses inexpensive ingredients which are easy to buy and cook.
If you have a simple goulash recipe in your repertoire, you will never be stuck for an easy and tasty meal to make for your friends and family, even at short notice. Hungarian goulash has a very distinctive flavour because of the Hungarian paprika in the recipe, but it is not too strong or too spicy, making it an ideal dish to serve to large groups of people. If you lead a busy lifestyle, it is a great recipe to make in a large batch and then freeze in individual portion sizes so that you can always have a warm meal ready within minutes.
The basic recipe
As with any traditional dish, there is some contention about what constitutes real goulash. The following recipe stays true to tradition, but only uses ingredients that are easy to find, and cooking methods that everyone can manage. Some recipes suggest cooking your goulash in a cauldron over an open fire, but the chances are that most modern cooks would prefer to use a heavy saucepan, or even a slow cooker. The beef is the most important part of the dish, so make sure you get some good quality meat. The best choice of cut will be the shin or shoulder.
The ingredients you will need for the goulash recipe are:
- 500g cubed beef
- 2 carrots
- 2 sticks of celery
- 2 minced garlic cloves
- 2 onions
- 3 potatoes
- 2 peeled tomatoes
- 2 green peppers
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tablespoon Hungarian paprika
- 1 teaspoon caraway
- salt and pepper to taste
To begin, chop the vegetables – medium slices are best, so that each serving of goulash has a nice amount of meat and vegetables. In a large saucepan, heat up some oil, or lard for a more authentic flavour. Soften the chopped onions and minced garlic until they are giving off a delicious aroma. Toss the beef cubes in a small amount of seasoned flour, and then add them to the pan. Once the beef is beginning to turn brown, add in the ground caraway seed and a pinch of salt and pepper.
Cover the meat and onions with water, add in a bay leaf, and set on a low heat to simmer for about two hours. After this time, add in the chopped vegetables, and cook for another thirty minutes.
If you would like to use a slow-cooker to make the goulash, cook the onions, garlic and meat in the pan, then transfer to the slow-cooker. Add water and put on the lowest setting for a few hours. Then, add the vegetables, check if the goulash needs more water, and leave for another hour. Add the tomatoes and peppers, and cook for 30 minutes. If the meat is still tough, turn the slow-cooker onto its highest setting and cook for a bit longer.
It is quite hard to go wrong with Hungarian goulash – as long as the meat and vegetables are both cooked, and the sauce has a nice thick consistency, it will most likely taste good. If you cannot get the sauce to the right consistency, you might want to thicken it with a little corn flour, or loosen it with some more water.
How to serve Hungarian goulash
Now that you know the basic goulash recipe, you can think about what you want to serve with it. For a light meal, it is possible to serve it alone, as the meat and potatoes in the dish make it filling. It is often served with crusty bread, much like a soup.
For a more authentic experience, you might consider serving your goulash with dumplings. Bread dumplings are a great way to use up any leftover bread you might have in the house. For best results use a crusty white loaf. To make the bread dumplings, all you need is stale bread, flour, water and eggs. The technique of making them may seem alarming, but it is quite easy once you get the hang of it, and tastes delicious.
Combine 225g flour, 250ml water, 3 eggs and 125g cubed stale bread. Cover and let it rest for around 30 minutes. When you are ready to cook the dumplings, bring a large pot of water to the boil and scoop out lumps of dough using an ice cream scoop, or by pulling off lumps of dough and forming them into balls – it is up to you whether you want them to look perfect or rustic. Drop them into the water and once they have risen to the surface, reduce the heat and simmer for around 10 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and serve alongside the goulash.
One of the most traditional ways to eat goulash is with csipetke. To make these, mix together 50g flour with one egg, then add seasoning. Knead the dough until it is smooth, then leave in a warm place to rest for around ten minutes. When the dough has rested, simply pinch off small pieces, form into dumplings, and add them into the pot of goulash about five minutes before it is ready to serve.
A great way to present small portions of goulash is to serve them in a bread bowl – that is, a hollowed out round bread loaf.
Make a meal of it
You probably want to share this delicious food with the special people in your life, whether that is your family, a group of your friends, or your partner. To do this, you might want to create a full menu that centres on goulash as a main course.
As with many other eastern European countries, Hungarians love soup. Therefore, soup is a very common way to begin a meal. You might choose a cabbage or lentil based soup to start, so that you can really enjoy your meat-based main.
For something a bit more unusual, serve the traditional Hungarian cheese spread called kőrözött. You might be able to find this at a specialist food supplier, or you can try to make it yourself by combining 200g sheep’s cheese curds with 30g sour cream, chopped onion, and Hungarian paprika. If you struggle to find sheep’s cheese curds, cottage cheese is an acceptable substitution. You should serve this with fresh crusty bread.
For a main course, the goulash will be the star of the show. If your guests are ready for more delicious Hungarian food, you could serve them a traditional dessert such as strudel or rákóczi túrós, a cake made with cottage cheese and meringue. Typical Hungarian drinks include beer and wine to drink during the meal, and pálinka (fruit brandy) with dessert. For the more adventurous drinkers among you, a shot of Unicum may be a welcome addition to the meal.
Hungarian goulash with a twist
Although authentic traditional Hungarian goulash is a classic for a reason, there are many ways you can make small changes to add a modern twist, or to suit your own specific tastes. Of course, this will seem like sacrilege to old-school goulash purists, so make sure to point out that this is your own special version of the old favourite. It is easy to substitute ingredients depending on what is available, what you like to eat, or what you have on hand.
Goulash doesn’t have to be a meal that you need to plan ahead and buy special ingredients for, so if you do not have one of the ingredients, leave it out or use something else. Some people swear by adding some smoked sausage to the goulash, and some will even suggest mixing sauerkraut into the finished dish. Once you have learned the basic recipe, feel free to experiment and try out new things.
Straight from the source
If making Hungarian goulash at home in your own kitchen just won’t cut it, you could take a trip to Hungary and take a cooking lesson while you’re there. Hungary is a country with a very strong national identity, so you will be sure to find a chef who is willing to teach you how to make traditional goulash, and perhaps even other important dishes in Hungarian cuisine. If you don’t want to do that, there may be a cooking class in your area that specialises in foreign cuisine.
Or, if you find that you are particularly good at making goulash, why not hold a cooking demonstration to show your friends and family how to make it too? It’s a great way to get people together to do something fun while learning a new skill. You could ask each person to bring one ingredient, so that nobody has to spend too much money.