When we were in Prague over Christmas, we had goulash in various forms. It was served in pretty much every bar and restaurant and was the perfect winter warmer after walking around the city in the freezing cold. In some establishments, it was more of a stew, but most versions were much more soup-like than we are used to.
Regardless of style, it was all completely delicious and I have been meaning to have a go at replicating my favourite since our return, but then Veganuary got in the way (not really conducive to testing beefy soup), closely followed by a trip to the UK and then a dose of the particularly pesky virus that seems to be circulating the British Isles this winter.
Once I’ve perfected the seasoning, I will start working on a vegan version – it won’t be completely authentic without the meat and the meaty stock, but I think it will be possible to produce something deliciously hearty and spicy, and the caraway dumplings should work equally well for both.
Most versions of goulash seem to involve only potatoes, tomatoes and onions in the vegetable department, but I am adding red pepper, leeks, celery and carrots, since we have all been told we now need to be on 10-a-day! I apologise if this is anathema to any Hungarian readers out there, but needs must, and I am pretty sure that canny Hungarian or Czech cooks would adapt their recipes to incorporate whatever veggies they have on hand. If I could get hold of swede or turnips here, they would be heading for the pot too.
Meat supplies in this neck of the woods are erratic to say the least. I was unable to buy anything suitable that was still on the bone, so I had to resort to cubed casserole meat (from whereabouts on the animal it originated is anyone’s guess). However, if you are able to buy beef shin (or oxtail could be good here), leave the meat on the bone while you cook the soup and then remove it at the end, before shredding the meat and returning it to the soup.
Whatever cut of meat you are using, it is important to cut it into very small pieces, if you are to end up with a soup rather than a stew. The dumplings can be cooked either on the hob (covered with a lid) or in the oven, uncovered – that will give them more of a crunchy top. If you don’t want to make the dumplings, by all means just serve some crusty bread for dunking purposes.
Depending on the type of potatoes you are using, they may start to fall apart into the soup – this is by no means a bad thing!
Goulash soup with caraway dumplings
Serves 4 as a main course
Olive oil and a knob of butter (optional)
350g beef, cut into 1cm cubes
1 large onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
1 leek, halved lengthways and sliced
2 celery sticks, diced
1 red pepper, seeded and diced
3 cloves garlic, grated or finely chopped
½ teaspoon caraway seeds
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon chopped thyme (or used dried if you don’t have fresh)
½ – 1 teaspoon chilli powder (omit if you don’t like your food very spicy)
2 medium tomatoes, diced (or equivalent amount of tinned tomatoes or passata)
1 litre chicken or beef stock (fresh is best, but a cube will do at a push)
2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
A large handful of flat-leaf parsley, chopped
For the dumplings:
50g vegetable suet (or beef suet if you prefer)
100g self-raising flour
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 tablespoon finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
Salt & black pepper
100ml cold water (approx)
Heat the oil (and the butter if using) in a large saucepan or sauté pan. I used a sauté pan because I want my dumplings to have space to go brown and crusty, but it’s up to you.
Once the oil is hot, add the meat and leave for a few minutes over a medium heat to brown, stirring occasionally.
Add the onions, carrots, leeks and celery, give everything a good stir and then cover with a lid and leave to cook until they begin to soften.
Stir in the diced red pepper and the garlic, and cook for a minute or two more, before adding the caraway seeds, paprika, chilli and thyme.
Make sure everything is well combined before stirring in the tomato and stock. Bring to a simmer, then cover with a lid and cook over a very gentle heat, so that the soup is just bubbling away very gently.
After an hour, add the diced potatoes, cover again and cook for at least another hour, or until the potatoes are very soft and the meat is completely tender.
If you want to cook your dumplings in the oven (crusty top!), pre-heat the oven to 190C. If you are happy with soft dumplings, you can cook them on the stove.
For the dumplings: stir together the suet, caraway seeds, seasoning and flour in a mixing bowl. Add the water a little at a time until you have a stiff dough that is of a consistency that you can roll into balls. You may not need quite all of the water – I used exactly 100ml, but it will depend on your flour. Stir through the parsley.
Take small pieces of the dough (about the size of a walnut in its shell) and roll each into a ball (I find it easiest to use a teaspoon to fish it out, and you may find it helps to rub some flour over your hands or dip one side of each ball into a bit of flour before you roll it). My mix made 12 balls, but that was entirely down to chance rather than any mathematical prowess on my part.
Once you have all of the balls ready, drop them into the soup and cook, either covered with a lid on the stove, or uncovered in the oven, until they are well-risen and fluffy – about 20 minutes or a little longer if you wish. (If you are cooking on the hob, you can flip them over after a few minutes if you wish – that way, both sides get to wallow in the soup).
Here are mine going into the oven:
And here they are about 20 minutes later:
Ladle the soup and some of the dumplings into warm bowls and scatter each bowl generously with the chopped parsley.