Mention the word "goulash" and a lot of people automatically add the word, "Hungarian." Few would argue that the hearty beef stew was born in Middle Europe. The dish, as well as the word gulyás, actually hails from Hungary. Gulyá literally means "herd of cattle"; hence, gulyás means "cowherd."
The meal prepared in a kettle by cowherds is called in Hungarian gulyás hus, hus meaning "meat." The borrowed German word gulasch was added to the German vocabulary through its use in Austria. Quintessential, eminently European, you might sit back and say.
Really? Well, a beef stew by any other name …
Many "Eastern" or "Oriental" (Mizrachi) restaurants in Israel (this means Middle Eastern or North African, not Chinese or Thai) serve something called goulash soup. And it is an absolute winner in its own right.
A careful study has led me to the conclusion that the main difference between European goulash and Mizrachi goulash soup is the seasoning. While no self-respecting chef in a Mizrachi restaurant would think of sneaking a bay leaf or even one caraway seed into a goulash soup, woe to the European cook who even lets a container of hawaij (a Middle Eastern spice mixture) come near his or her version.
My Viennese mother-in-law made the best goulash around. Alas, we never recorded her recipe before she passed away, but my husband claims that what's below is close enough. It's a big recipe, serving eight to 10 hearty eaters who will enjoy it over noodles, or with dumplings or spaetzle, and then mop up the sauce with good bread. My mother-in-law always stressed that one should have the same volume of meat and onions, so adjust your onions accordingly.
You may not think of this as a summer dish, as it's hot and heavy, but it does make for a filling dinner with leftovers.
Viennese Beef Goulash
4 Tbsps. oil
8-10 onions, peeled, coarsely chopped
5 lbs. beef flanken, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 bay leaves
2 Tbsps. dried marjoram
8 Tbsps. sweet paprika
1 Tbsp. finely ground caraway seeds
8 garlic cloves,finely chopped
salt and pepper
11/2 quarts or more water
Heat the oil in a large, heavy saucepan.
Add onions and sauté over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally until golden.
Add the meat, bay leaves, marjoram, paprika, caraway seeds, garlic, salt and pepper. Sauté for 5 minutes.
Add water to cover and simmer, covered, for about 3 hours, or until meat is tender. Add water as needed; partially uncover pot as needed.
Remove bay leaves before serving.
Middle Eastern Goulash (Meat)
5 lbs. beef shoulder, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 tsp. "baharat" (a Middle Eastern spice mixture)
1 tsp. black pepper
4 Tbsps. sweet paprika
celery, cut into 3/4-inch slices
winter squash, cubed
"hawaij" (a Middle Eastern spice mixture)
Place the meat in a large saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil and add the baharat, pepper and paprika.
Lower heat to simmer and cook for 3 to 4 hours, or until meat is tender.
Add the vegetables and cook until fork-tender.
Stir the remaining seasonings into a cup of boiling water and add to the pot. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes.
Shopping Note: Baharat and hawaij are two Middle Eastern spice mixtures that can be purchased at specialty markets.
Rivka Tal is a writer living in Jerusalem.