Once the nourishment of herdsmen, this quintessential Hungarian dish consists of a paprika-laced broth piled generously with cubes of tender beef, potatoes, and small noodles. The goulash soup is actually a 19th-century derivative of the goulash, made with more liquid and incorporating some vegetables. Confusingly, in Hungary, people refer to this soup as goulash, while the original goulash is known as pörkölt.
Yield: 5-6 servings; Total time: 3 hours
For the soup
500 grams (1 pound) beef chuck or shank, cut into 2 cm (¾ inch) cubes
2 tablespoons lard (if you don’t have any, you can render fatback or pork belly fat or simply use vegetable oil)
3 tablespoons Hungarian sweet paprika
1 teaspoon ground caraway seeds
2 medium onions, peeled and minced
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
3 teaspoons salt (more to taste)
3 pinches freshly ground pepper
4 medium potatoes (600 grams; 1 ⅓ pounds), cut into 2 cm (¾ inch) chunks
2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced thin
2 ripe medium tomatoes, peeled and cut into very small pieces (or puréed into smooth paste using an immersion blender)
1 Hungarian wax pepper or yellow bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut into very small pieces (or puréed into smooth paste using an immersion blender)
½ celery root, peeled and halved
2 parsnips, peeled and quartered
1 kohlrabi, peeled and halved
2 ½ liters (2.6 quarts) water or stock
Optional: ½ cup dry white wine (alcohol will evaporate)
1 bunch fresh parsley, chopped
Slices of crusty bread
Optional: hot paprika paste for the side
For the dumplings (csipetke)
80 grams (⅔ cup) all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
Step 1: Heat lard (or oil) in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high, then add minced onion and sauté until translucent, about 6-8 minutes.
Step 2: Add meat and sear until it’s lightly browned, about 5-6 minutes.
Step 3: Reduce heat to medium-low and add paprika, ground caraway seeds, salt, black pepper, carrots, celery root, parsnip, kohlrabi, minced garlic, and the small bits of tomato and yellow pepper. Add 2 ½ liters (2.6 quarts) water or stock (and wine, if you’re using it) to cover them. Place lid on pot and let it cook at a low simmer until beef is very tender, about 2 ½ hours.
Step 4: In the meantime, prepare the dumplings (csipetke) by mixing egg, flour, and pinch of salt. Knead them into a firm dough (add more flour if needed), then let it rest.
Step 5: When beef is ready, add potato chunks and cook on a brisk simmer until potatoes are soft but not mushy, about 20-25 minutes.
Step 6: In the meantime, add dumplings (csipetke) by pinching small pieces off the dough and tossing them into the soup. Yes, it’s a little tedious. Dumplings are ready when they rise to the top, about 2-3 minutes.
Step 7: Mix in chopped parsley (retain a bit for garnish). Taste for salt and pepper, and add more if needed. Discard the celery, parsnip, and kohlrabi pieces from the soup as they've released their flavor. Serve the goulash in soup bowls with a drizzle of parsley on top and slices of crusty bread and hot paprika paste on the side.
Words of advice
(i) One of the goals here is to get very tender meat, but not to overcook the potatoes. To do this, add the potatoes only when the beef is nearly falling apart and stop cooking as soon as the potatoes are soft but far from disintegrating. (ii) Most people don't do this, but if you'd like to achieve a clean-looking broth, you can strain the liquid before serving the soup. (iii) Though a nice addition, the goulash soup also works without the somewhat labor intensive csipetke dumplings, especially if you serve the soup with sliced bread. (iv) As with some other soups, the goulash tastes even better the next day.
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I created these recipes with the help of nearly a dozen historical Hungarian cookbooks, adjusting ingredients, cooking times, and methods to reflect my own preferences and tastes of the current day. Do you have any feedback? Please let me know!