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If you would ask 100 random foreigners to tell you the first word that comes to their mind when they hear the word ‘Hungary’, I’m pretty sure that gulyás (or goulash) would be among the top 3 associations. So what is gulyás and why is it so well known?
Here in Hungary we love to eat. We love heavy food, preferably with lots of meat, and we love three course lunches, the kind you eat and then can’t move for the entire afternoon. Gulyás is one those dishes – though it’s a soup, or more like something in between a soup and a stew.
I’ve never seen any other country where people love their soup as much as we Hungarians do. Most just skip it over, or eat a few spoons of some spicy watery thing, though none of these are anything close to the rich, thick, tasty soups that Hungarians love so much, especially on a cold autumn or winter afternoon.
Gulyás is made of beef, vegetables, ground paprika and other spices. It originated from a dish cooked by the cattlemen, who tended their herds in the Great Hungarian Plains (or Alföld in Hungarian). They often camped out with their cattle, being away from the populated areas for many days – their food had to be made from the local ingredients which they could carry with them, and could cook in the heavy iron kettles over an open fire. It’s a perfect example of how a few simple ingredients, cooked properly, can yield an incredible flavour.
You don’t necessarily have to travel to Hungary to taste the gulyás, since it’s quite easy to make one in your own kitchen. Many variations of recipes exist, and every cook makes it just a bit differently, but right now let me show you how I would make it.
- 0,6 kg beef or venison
- 2 medium onions, diced
- 3 big carrots, diced
- 1 celery stick and leaves, all diced
- 0,4 kg potato, peeled and chopped into small cubes
- 1 small tomato, diced
- 1 bell pepper, diced
- 3 garlic cloves, crushed
- 2 tbsp sweet Hungarian paprika
- 0,5 tbsp chilli paprika
- 1 tbsp salt
- 1 tbsp caraway seeds, crushed
- 2 bay leaves
- freshly ground black pepper
- sunflower oil (or pork fat)
- sour cream and flat-leaf parsley to garnish
How to prepare the traditional Hungarian gulyás:
1. Trim the meat and dice it into bite sized chunks. Chop up the onions, carrots, potatoes, tomato, bell pepper and celery.
2. Heat a tablespoon of oil (or pork fat – that’s the traditional way!) in a large heavy-bottomed pan, add the onions and stir for a few minutes, until they’re beginning to brown. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the sweet and chilli paprika. Important: if you do it while it’ still over the fire – the paprika will fry and turn bitter!
3. Add the beef and the crushed garlic, return to the heat and cook over a medium-high heat until the meat is no longer red. The meat will release enough juices to keep the paprika from scorching.
4. Add the salt, pepper, caraway seeds and the bay leaves. Also add the tomato and bell pepper, and cook the whole thing for 30 minutes.
5. Now it’s the time for the vegetables – add the diced carrots, celery (including the leaves), potatoes and flat-leaf parsley to the mixture. Add about 2 liters of water and bring it to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat to medium and simmer for about 50 more minutes.
6. It’s ready to eat! You’re going to love the gorgeous reddish-brown, flavourful broth. Serve it hot with a spoon of sour cream and a loaf of fresh crusty bread – in the traditional Hungarian way!