Even though we’re midway through March autumn hasn’t yet decided to grace us with her presence. Our nights are still warm and the days warmer. Yesterday morning when we got out of the car to do our 5am walk at the beach there was a warm northerly blowing, bringing with it the clamminess of humidity. It’s far from the right time of year to talk about goulash, let alone eat it, but yet we’re doing both – partly because I’m featuring the recipe in the second Philly Barker novel and partly because Grant brought home some spaetzle to try.

The one dish that reminds me of my childhood is this – goulash. The recipe Mum uses originally came from Aunty Doll. My Nan’s sister, she married an American serviceman after WW2 and brought the recipe back to Australia when she eventually returned (minus the serviceman). It consists of minced beef (or ground beef as it’s called in the US), fried off in a pan after which you add some sort of aromatics (usually onion, garlic, sometimes paprika), some sort of tomatoes (soup, tinned, crushed, whatever), and some sort of cooked pasta (egg noodles or macaroni). It’s then piled into a baking dish with cheese scattered over the top and popped in the oven until the cheese is all bubbly. Delish. It’s still a special treat when I’m in Sydney to get a plate of Grandma Goulash for dinner. It’s familiar, a taste of my childhood, comfort food, I suppose. Anyways, you’ll find Mum’s recipe here.

For years I thought that when people spoke of goulash, this was what they meant – until we went to Europe for the first time way back in 1995. We were doing one of those 21-day Trafalgar bus tours (it’s Monday so we must be in Austria) and had stopped at a service centre for lunch somewhere on the way to Salzburg. I ordered goulash soup and when it arrived it was chucks of slow-cooked beef in a deep, rich, paprika-scented broth. It was more of a stew than a soup. There was a dollop of sour cream on top and bread on the side and it was a revelation. For the rest of the trip, I ordered goulash whenever I saw it. Sometimes it was soupier, sometimes not. Sometimes potatoes and carrots were diced into it to thicken and smooth the stew, sometimes they were served alongside it, sometimes it had red peppers and tomatoes in it, sometimes not. 

This goulash has its roots in Hungary as a sort of soupy central European chilli con carne, as Felicity Cloake puts it, favoured by cowboys (gulyás). Originally a meat-studded thin broth these days the term goulash refers to a paprika-rich stew rather than a soup – although it can fall somewhere at either end of the soup-stew range.

A cheaper cut of meat is called for here; the stew is cooked long and slow so you need something that’s going to melt into richness over this period of time – and that means fat and sinew so one of the cheaper cuts. If you can get it, beef shin is perfect, but otherwise chuck or gravy beef will do the job – or whatever it is you call stewing beef where you live. Needless to say, rump steak will be wasted on this one.

If you want you can throw in some carrots or potatoes – I’ve also seen it with mushrooms – but I prefer it without. I’ve also seen some recipes without capsicum (peppers) and some without tomatoes, but I prefer it with these.

As for the spices, paprika for smokey sweetness – and a lot of it – but caraway seeds (if you can get them) add the faintest underlying…I’m not sure of the word… anise bitter-sweetness? Other than salt and pepper that’s pretty much it – although I do usually chuck in a couple of bay leaves rescued from the locusts that have decimated my garden (honestly, you should see the size of these things) and stripped every leaf from my lemon tree and almost every leaf from the bay.

Speaking of lemon, this really benefits from a squeeze of lemon juice towards the end – it needs some acidity to balance the sweetness from the paprika.

Rather than stirring through sour cream before serving, we like to dollop it on top. I also normally scatter a handful of chopped bright-green parsley over the top but, well, the locusts, plus what’s left of my parsley has bolted to seed – and I forgot to buy some.

Anyways, without further ado, here’s the recipe.


What you need

  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 1kg (or thereabouts) shin or gravy beef, trimmed, cut into 3cm cubes
  • 2 large brown onions, sliced into half moons
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 large red or green capsicums, cut into 2cm pieces
  • 2 tbsp plain flour
  • 3 tbsp sweet paprika
  • 1 tsp caraway seeds (ground)
  • 1 tsp salt (or to taste)
  • 1 tsp pepper (or to taste)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 cups beef stock
  • 400g can chopped tomatoes or a 400ml bottle of tomato passata – whatever you have in the pantry
  • juice of a lemon
  • sour cream to serve
  • Cooked egg noodles, spaetzle or potatoes (boiled or mashed – your call) to serve
  • Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (or chives), to serve

What you do with it…

Preheat the oven to 140C

Mix together the paprika, salt and pepper, caraway seeds and flour into a large bowl and tip in the beef, tossing it about until it’s evenly coated. I think clean hands are the best tool for this job.

Heat the oil in a heavy-based oven-proof casserole dish over a medium-high heat, and then brown the meat in batches, being very careful not to crowd the pan. Remove when golden and crusted, and set aside.

Scrape the bottom of the pan and add the onions, adding a little more oil if necessary. Cook until soft and starting to brown, then stir the flour and spice mixture that’s in the bottom of the bolw leftover from the beef into the onions and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring. Tip the beef back into the pan and add the stock and tomato. Scrape the bottom of the pan again, stir through a couple of bay leaves then put in the oven for 2.5 hours.

Stir the peppers and lemon juice into the goulash and cook for another half hour, or until the meat is very tender – you can remove the lid to let the sauce reduce if you like it stewier rather than soupier. Check the seasoning and serve with sour cream, your carb of choice and the parsley you remembered to buy.

Author: Jo

Author, baker, sunrise chaser

11 thoughts

  1. Your recipe, except for the carroway is pretty much how I make mine.
    It finally dawned on me that I can sprinkle parsley seeds in with some potting mix and grow them.They are coming up nicely. 🌸


  2. Being American myself I definitely picture the first dish when you say goulash! In fact, I think we had that pasta/ground beef dish nearly every week growing up. The goulash soup looks and sounds pretty tasty too!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. We are moving into spring here in New Jersey but I will definitely make your recipe in the fall. In our family goulash was a term used for anything that was hanging around the refrigerator and combined with a little tomato.


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