As January has come in full force, the name of the food game seems to be healthy food. Salads, low carb, gluten-free, low fat; you get the idea.  I don’t know about your grandma, but mine didn’t do salads. Of course she ate vegetables, but to call a pile of lettuce a meal would have been considered a joke, and one not well received.  

However, while one group of us out there seems to be reaching for the cruel-joke lettuce dishes, the other half of us are reaching for comfort food and of that, my grandma was an expert. So for January, we’re going to foray into Grandma Beresh’s kitchen for my absolute favorite dish, Veal Paprikash, and learn a little bit about the bigger picture of goulash, the quintessential comfort food.

The word gulyás originally meant simply “herdsman,” and its use can be traced back to ninth century nomadic cattle ranchers. Hungarian cowboys, if you will. Over time, the dish became gulyáshús,  a meat stew prepared by these cowboys on long cattle drives, seasoned with little more than onions and black pepper. After all, this was essentially campground fare and cooked by those not privy to grandma’s spice drawer.

Not until the end of the 19th century did goulash make it way into the bourgeoisie crowd.  Around that time, the Austrian Hapsburg dynasty was, by common opinion, starting to become overreaching.  Feeling their national identity slip away, Hungarians collectively fought to preserve everything about their culture; the language, the dress and their food, and claimed goulash as their own.  

In this excerpt from The Cuisine of Hungary, the author’s insistence on a certain preparation evidences the fear that perhaps Hungary’s most famous food would fall victim to the whims of other countries’ influence:

Never use any flour. Never use any other spice besides caraway. Never Frenchify it with wine. Never Germanize it with brown sauce. Never put in any other garniture besides diced potatoes or galuska [noodles].

As such, the classic goulash was prepared by frying cubes of beef or mutton with onions in lard, and seasoned simply with garlic and caraway seeds, and finished off with tomatoes, green peppers and, finally, potatoes.

Believe it or not, what has become to many the defining ingredient of goulash has only been around for the last few hundred years!  It wasn’t until the 1700/early 1800s during the Napoleonic Wars when black pepper became unobtainable that Turkish peppers became popular to add pizazz and flavor to a dish. Paprika, which is Hungarian for pepper, was first recommended for use in goulash in a recording dated 1748 and has become the dish’s trademark ever since.  

There are several types of goulash available as you visit restaurants in all of Hungary, but the best versions are normally the ones you get from a real Hungarian grandmother and my version, in my very biased opinion, is the best example of this.

Luckily for me, my grandma sort of knew what was up with health food before it was categorized as such. If you were to head to Hungary yourself and order this dish, you’d no doubt get it colored off- white, and dolloped with about half a pint of sour cream. Not in my grandma’s kitchen. She tinted hers with just enough sour cream for effect, and today I think this dish would safely be described as lightened up comfort food.  

Goulash is traditionally served with simple crusty bread, and occasionally with tiny homemade noodle dumplings called csipetke.  In my house, however, grandma took a bit of a supermarket shortcut using orzo noodles, prepared risotto-style and it’s this way that my family eats (and loves) it today. I hope that, next time you’re searching for that big bowl of comfort, you consider giving this recipe a try.

Trivia: Every year Szolnok , a town about 100 km from Budapest, holds an annual goulash festival and competition.


For the veal

  •    1 pound stewing veal meat
  •    1 large yellow onion, chopped
  •    1 medium carrot, chopped the same size as the onion
  •    1 tsp, heaping of Sweet Hungarian Paprika
  •    1 TB parsley, chopped
  •    1 tsp flour
  •    Salt and pepper
  •    ¼ cup sour cream

For the orzo

  •    1 cup orzo pasta
  •    2-3 ½ cups of chicken stock, warmed
  •    ½ TB butter or olive oil
  •    Salt and pepper
  •    ¼ cup parsley, chopped

Make the veal

  1.    Saute the onions in 1 tsp oil and cook until golden. Add the carrot and cook until tender. Add the paprika and toast about 5 minutes.
  2.    Add the meat, parsley and salt and pepper and simmer until the meat is tender, about 45 minutes.
  3.    Add just enough liquid to cover what is in the pan (not too much…)
  4.    Mix together the flour and sour cream and add to the stew. Incorporate thoroughly and serve with orzo.

Make the orzo

  1.    In a large, somewhat deep skillet (preferably cast iron) , heat the olive oil or butter over medium-high heat. Stir in the orzo and toast about 5 minutes until golden brown.
  2.    Add in the stock, a few ladles at a time, and stir for a minute with each addition. Keep adding stock each time the pan starts to become dry at the edges.
  3.    When the orzo is cooked to al dente, season with salt and pepper and fold in the parsley


Chrissy Barua lives in Lincoln Park and successfully lawyers by day despite an addiction to bad movies, cookies, and travel. She'll be bringing you monthly doses of delicious as she tries to track down the best grandma recipes she can find. (Follow her on her other cooking adventures at The Hungary Buddha Eats the World.)