Rustic Hungarian Stew with Paprika

Goulash. GMVozd / Getty Images

Goulash is a rustic stew or soup made with beef and vegetables, and usually seasoned with paprika. Goulash originates in Hungary and in many variations it remains a popular recipe throughout Eastern Europe.

Goulash can also be made with veal, pork or lamb in addition to beef. But no matter what kind of meat is used, goulash is best prepared with tougher cuts of meat which become tender when cooked with slow, moist heat, a technique known as braising.

These cuts of meat also have collagen, which will convert to gelatin during braising and thicken the stew without adding flour or other thickeners.

Although it has many variations, goulash is a simple dish. While goulash ingredients can include parsnips, carrots or tomatoes, goulash can really be made from nothing but beef, onions, and paprika. Some goulash recipes include caraway seeds and garlic.

Origins of Goulash

Goulash is one of the national dishes of Hungary. The name comes from the Hungarian gulyás, meaning herdsman or cowboy, as gulya means a herd of cattle. Huge herds of cattle were raised in Hungary from the Middle Ages onward. The meat dishes prepared by the herdsmen developed into traditional goulash.

Of course, potatoes were not part of goulash until they were brought from the Americas and began to be cultivated in Europe. While you will see tomatoes often in goulash recipes, they were only added in the middle of the 20th century, a very recent addition.

Goulash Variations and Recipes

Hungarian Beef Goulash Recipe - Marha Gulyas: This traditional one-pot meal can be made in a slow cooker. Beef chuck steak, onion, green pepper, tomato (a late addition to goulash), caraway seeds and red potatoes are braised with hot Hungarian paprika. It's served with traditional handmade Hungarian pinched noodles (csipetke).

Gluten-Free and Dairy-Free Goulash: The traditional goulash recipe is gluten-free if not served with the noodles and as long as flour is not used when browning the meat before cooking it with the other ingredients. If stock is used rather than water for braising, a gluten-free stock should be chosen. While some goulash recipes suggest serving with sour cream or adding it to the sauce, it is not required.

Croatian Venison Goulash (Gulaš) Recipe: This recipe uses sweet Hungarian paprika and a venison roast from the hindquarters. The cubed meat is marinated overnight, seared in oil, then braised for three hours. Carrots, mushrooms, and Vegeta are added, along with cayenne pepper and black pepper for extra spice. It is served over polenta or can be served with mashed potatoes or noodles.

Low-Carb Goulash: While goulash is usually thought of as a hearty dish, it can be low in carbohydrates if it isn't prepared with potatoes or served with noodles or other starches. Some low carbohydrate choices include serving it on a bed of sauteed cabbage or cauliflower rice.

You will see many variations in cuisine throughout Europe as the Hungarian cowboys drove their cattle to market what would become Austria, Germany, Italy, and the Czech Republic.