Goulash…but not as you know it

So anyways, this week’s foodie post is about my Mum’s goulash. 

The recipe Mum uses originally came from Aunty Doll. She married an American serviceman after WW2 and brought the recipe back to Australia when she eventually returned.

The thing is, this isn’t goulash as I now know it to be – it’s something so far removed from the goulash that I know that I have no idea why it’s always been called goulash.

I think I realised this when 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 near 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 delicious. For the rest of the trip I ordered goulash whenever I saw it. Sometimes it was served with potatoes diced into it to thicken and smooth the stew, sometimes it was served with boiled potatoes alongside it, sometimes it had red peppers in it, sometimes not. 

In the years since, that’s the style of goulash I’ve made – the European style, or Hungarian goulash. There is, I’ve since found out, something called American goulash which is the recipe Aunty Doll brought back. It consists of beef mince (or ground beef as it’s called in the US), some sort of tomatoes (soup, tinned, crushed, whatever), some sort of aromatics (usually onion, garlic, sometimes paprika) and some sort of pasta (egg noodles or macaroni) and very often cheese. Whilst it is supposed to be a descendant of the original Hungarian recipe, sometimes the only similarity is the inclusion of beef, tomatoes and onions. If you’re reading this in the US I’d love to know if this was something your family ate.

Regardless of the origins, it’s a special treat when I’m in Sydney to get a plate of (what we call) Grandma Goulash for dinner. It’s familiar, a taste of my childhood, comfort food, I suppose. Mum makes it in advance and freezes it in foil trays so it can go straight into the oven for reheating. Mum freezes a lot of things, but that’s another story entirely.

The grandkids love it too – Sarah looks forward to Grandma’s goulash whenever she stays with my parents. Continued state border closures though mean that it’s been way too long since I was able to visit my parents – and both Sarah and I have been craving Grandma goulash.

While I haven’t cooked it in years, I have the recipe written down in the little book I wrote recipes in before I left home. My handwriting at 20 was much neater than it is today and while I’ve written down the ingredients, I’ve not bothered so much with the method.

Anyways, here’s the recipe that Aunty Doll passed to my mother and the recipe that I’ll be passing to my daughter – not that she is inclined to cook, but I hold out hope. The quantities are enough to feed 6 people – or 4 really hungry people with some leftover. Mum always serves it with a little salad that she’s put together with bits and pieces of whatever is in her garden, but we have it on its own.

Grandma Goulash

What you need

  • 1kg hamburger mince. Don’t buy the super lean beef mince – you need the one that you’d make burgers with, the one with a little fat in it.
  • 2 cans crushed tomatoes (Mum uses tomato soup, I use diced tomatoes)
  • 1 can corn kernels
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 heaped teaspoon curry powder
  • 2 onions, finely diced 
  • 2 cloves garlic, grated (Don’t tell Mum about this though – she’d never add garlic. Don’t tell Sarah either because she thinks I made it exactly like Grandma does)
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 cups cooked noodles. I used fettuccine which I broke up before I cooked it. This does, however, sometimes tend to clump together like railroad tracks so feel free to use macaroni.
  • Enough grated cheese for the top.

What you do with it

Warm the oil in a large (wide) frypan and add the onions. Cook over a medium-low heat for about 5 minutes until soft. Add the garlic and curry powder and cook for another minute before adding the mince. Turn the heat up and cook until it’s browned all over and lost its pinkness. You’ll need to use your wooden spoon or a fork to break it up as you go.

Add the corn and the tomatoes, turn the hear down again to medium, and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the meat is cooked through.

While that’s happening preheat your oven to 180C and cook your pasta in the usual way, remembering that it will have some more cooking in the oven, so al dente is all you need.

Introduce the pasta to the meat sauce and pour into an oven-safe tray.

Toss over the cheese – enough to cover it – and pop it all in the oven. It should take about 30-40 minutes, or until the cheesy top is golden brown and bubbling.

Author: Jo

I write, I bake, I chase sunrises.

9 thoughts

    1. She doesn’t see the point in cooking…her time can be spent way more efficiently having someone else do that for her. Sigh.

  1. I have had many variations of goulash over the years. True, should it even be called goulash? We used to make a ground beef version when our girls were very young. A hit with them. Like you say, Jo, a comfort food. I always appreciate the original stained recipes. Your recipe and photo look like it is a hit for all ages!

  2. What a scrumptious looking recipe. I have pinned it. Thinking by Weight Watchers standards, using the chopped or canned tomatoes would be more calorie friendly than the tomato soup. I always enjoy learning the terms you use in Australia that we call something different. Hamburger mince. Sounds much prettier.

    1. We use the crushed tomato – I don’t like the other things & the sugars in tinned tomato soup. It’s amazing how different our terminology is, isn’t it?

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