Goulash soup (Gulyásleves)

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.

Ingredients

Yield: 4-6 servings; Total time: 2 hours

For the soup

  • 600 grams (1 ⅓ pounds) beef chuck or shank, cut into 2 cm (¾ inch) cubes

  • 1 tablespoon lard (if you don’t have any, you can render pork belly or bacon fat or use vegetable oil)

  • 2 ½ tablespoons Hungarian sweet paprika

  • 1 teaspoon ground caraway seeds

  • 1 onion, minced

  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

  • 2 teaspoons salt

  • 2 pinches freshly ground pepper

  • 2 liters (2.1 quarts) water or stock

  • Optional: ½ cup dry white wine (alcohol will evaporate)

  • 4 medium potatoes (600 grams; 1 ⅓ pounds), cut into 2 cm (¾ inch) chunks

  • 1 large carrot, peeled and sliced thin

  • 1 ripe medium tomato, 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)

  • 1 small celery root, peeled and quartered

  • 1 parsnip, peeled and quartered

  • 1 bunch fresh parsley, chopped

  • Slices of crusty bread

For the dumplings (csipetke)

  • 1 egg

  • 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour

  • Pinch of salt

Directions

  • 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 stir in paprika, caraway seeds, salt, pepper, celery root, parsnip, minced garlic, and the small bits of tomato and yellow pepper. Add water or stock (and wine, if you’re using it) to cover them, about 1 liter (1.1 quarts). Place lid on pot and let it simmer for about 1 ½ hours, until beef is very tender.

  • Step 4: In the meantime, prepare the dumplings (csipetke) by mixing egg, flour, and pinch of salt. Knead them into a firm dough, then let it rest.

  • Step 5: Add potato chunks, sliced carrots, and remaining (1 liter / 1.1 quarts) water, and cook on a brisk simmer until potatoes are soft but not mushy, about 12-15 minutes.

  • Step 6: In the meantime, add dumplings (csipetke) by pinching small, 1 cm (0.4 inch) pieces off the dough with hands into the soup. Yes, it’s a little tedious. Dumplings are ready when they rise to the top, about 2-3 minutes.

  • Step 7: Taste for salt and add more if needed. Discard the celery and parsnip pieces from the soup. Serve 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) The goal here is go get very tender meat, but not to overcook the potatoes and carrots. To do this, add these vegetables only after the beef is nearly falling apart and stop cooking as soon as the potatoes are soft but far from disintegrating (by then the carrots will also be ready). (ii) To achieve a clean-looking broth, some people strain the liquid before serving the soup.

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.