Authentic Hungarian Goulash

We – my siblings, cousins on my father’s side of the family, and I – grew up on authentic Hungarian Goulash. It was one of those dishes that grandma made that we gobbled up, with chunks of hot salt bread–and also, admittedly, one we all took for granted.

Over the years, since starting to collect cookbooks in 1965, I have discovered that people will label almost any kind of stew “goulash” – maybe because it has a foreign ring to it. I am here to tell you, not all goulashes are alike and not all stews are authentic goulashes. And while there appears to be considerable flexibility in what you put into the pot along with meat, onion, and vegetables–if it doesn’t contain Hungarian paprika, it isn’t Goulash.

As a matter of fact, it was Hungarian Goulash that set me on my cookbook collecting quest. In 1965, one of the wives of the Hungarian men in our circle told me she wanted to find a little recipe booklet about Hungarian cuisine, published by Culinary Arts Institute.

“I know how to find it!” I exclaimed. “There is a little magazine, called Women’s Circle (not to be confused with Family Circle or Woman’s Day) – that publishes letters written by women–requests for penpals, requests for certain books or other items. I’ll write a letter and see if we can buy your Hungarian cookbooklet”.  I wrote the letter and as an after thought, added that I was interested in starting a collection of cookbooks and would buy or trade for them.  I received nearly 300 replies. Peggy got a copy of the Hungarian cookbooklet, and so did I – for about $1 each – and I embarked on a year long odyssey of buying cookbooks from women all over the USA. My collection was born.

Authentic gulyás (Goulash) is a beef dish cooked with onions, Hungarian Paprika, tomatoes, and some green pepper. Potato and/or noodles (csipetke in Hungarian) may also be added according to some recipes.  Authentic Hungarian Goulash is Hungary’s national dish and is probably the most famous of all Hungarian meat dishes. Its origin can be traced back, over a thousand years ago, to the Magyar migration across the Great Plains. The origin of the word “gulyas” meant cowherd or cowboy.  The men and boys gathered around an open fire under an open sky in the evening and created a meal with meat and vegetables in large kettles suspended over the campfires. The soup was referred to, in Hungary, as “gulyasleves” meaning cowboy soup. Another interesting fact is that the use of paprika was introduced to Hungarian kitchens during the years of Turkish rule and was first referred to as “Torok bors” meaning Turkish pepper. It was only in the 18th century that the name paprika was used.

Hungarian goulash is neither a soup nor a stew, it’s somewhere in between. However, in Hungary it’s considered more of a soup than a stew, so look for it among Soups on restaurant menus.

When cooked properly, goulash will have a nice and evenly thick consistency, almost like a sauce. In Hungary gulyás is eaten as a main dish. Even in Hungary, most housewives and chefs have their own way of cooking it, by adding or omitting some of the ingredients, or changing something in the preparation process; however they would all say their gulyás is authentic.

This first recipe is an adaptation from one I found on the Budapest Tourist Guide website (

To make Hungarian Goulash you will need:

  • 1-2 pounds of  chuck, or any tender cut of  beef cut into small cubes
  • 2 tablespoons oil or lard
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1-2 carrots, diced
  • 1 parsnip, diced (*I consider this optional. Grandma’s goulash never had parsnip in it)
  • 1-2 celery leaves
  • 2 medium tomatoes, peeled and chopped, or 1 TBSP tomato paste
  • 2 fresh green peppers (sweet bell peppers, not hot peppers)
  • 2-3 medium potatoes, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon Hungarian paprika powder*
  • 1 teaspoon ground caraway seed
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ground black pepper and salt according to taste
  • water
  1. Heat up the oil or lard in a pot and braise the chopped onions until they are a nice golden brown color.
  2. Sprinkle the braised onions with paprika powder while stirring, to prevent the paprika from burning.
  3. Add the beef cubes and sauté until they turn white and get a bit of brownish color as well. The meat will probably let out its own juice. Allow the beef-cubes simmer in it while adding the grated or crushed and chopped garlic (grated garlic has stronger flavor), the ground caraway seed, some salt and ground black pepper, and the bay leaf. Pour water enough to cover the contents of the pan and let it simmer on low heat for a while.
  4. When the meat is half-cooked (approximately 1 1/2 hour, but it can take longer depending on the type and quality of the beef) add the diced carrots, parsnip and the potatoes, the celery leaf and additional salt if necessary. Taste and then adjust seasonings. You may have to add additional (2-3 cups) water too.
  5. When the vegetables and the meat are almost done add the tomato cubes and the sliced green peppers. Let it cook on low heat for another few minutes. You can remove the lid of the pan if you want the soup to thicken.
  6. Bring the soup to a boil and add (if you are including it) the csipetke dough; allow about 5 minutes for it to cook.

Csipetke (Pinched noodles added to goulash or bean soup in Hungary) comes from the word csípni, meaning pinch in English, referring to the way of making this noodle. Goulash is hearty enough without csipetke, especially if you eat it with bread, so you can skip making csipetke. (I believe that csipetke is the similar to my grandmother’s rivels). We didn’t have Rivels, or Csipetke with Goulash; however, the tiny dumplings were always included in Grandma’s home made chicken soup.


You will need:

  • 1 small egg,
  • flour,
  • a pinch of salt,
  • 1 teaspoon water

To make the tiny dumplings, beat up a small egg, add a pinch of salt and as much flour as  needed to make a stiff dough (you can add some water if necessary). Flatten the dough between your palms (to about 1 cm thick) and pinch small, bean-sized pieces from it and add them to the boiling soup. They need about 5 minutes to cook.

*One final word about paprika – don’t even bother with commercial American-made paprika. It won’t be the same as authentic Hungarian paprika, which I have been finding more and more frequently in major supermarkets. Look for a red and white and green tin labeled “Pride of Szeged Hungarian Hot Paprika”. The last paprika I purchased was from World Market and a 5 ounce in was only $3.19.

The following recipe is my Aunt Annie’s Hungarian Goulash – and I am assuming, since she was the daughter of my paternal grandmother, that this was the way Grandma made Hungarian Goulash also:

To make Aunt Annie’s Hungarian Goulash you will need:

  • 2 lbs cubed beef
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 large potatoes
  • 1 cup tomato juice
  • 1 cup beef broth or 1 cup water & 1 bouillon cube
  • 2 tsp dried parsley flakes
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 1 ½ tsp salt

Brown beef, add chopped onion, garlic, paprika, salt & parsley. Then add juice and broth. Simmer 1 hour. Add sliced carrots. Simmer ½ hour. Add diced potatoes. Simmer 1 hour.

Happy Cooking! -Sandy

12 responses to “Authentic Hungarian Goulash

  1. thank you so much for posting the hungarian goulash recipe my husband talks about his mothers goulash that she made with tomato juice found this site he read the recipe and said thats it so we are having it for dinner angian thank you rose and lee

    • It’s emails like yours that make my day, and make me feel that what I am doing with my blog is worth while. Thank you for writing! Tell your husband I understand; my grandparents were German Hungarian and I knew that any old stew did not make it a goulash. 🙂

      Thanks you for writing!

  2. Pingback: Hungarian Goulash (Maďarský Guláš) - Illustrated Slovak Recipes and Language Lessons -

    • Glad to see someone interested in Hungarian cuisine surfing the internet. mmmmm, I could go for layered potatoes & kolbasz right now. – Sandy

  3. Pingback: Killmeyer’s Old Bavaria Inn | Gastro Traveling

  4. Andrew Teeluck

    My dad was Hungarian, and he made what I thought was the most excellent goulash soup. Now I’m in search of a good recipe. But one question I have is the role caraway plays in the dish. I seem to associate goulash with caraway.

    All of the recipes I’ve seen call for 1/2 tsp of caraway. I tried that and can hardly taste it. I ended up putting in 1 tbsp of it! Am I wrong in putting so much caraway? In the first recipe you have 1 tsp of *ground* caraway. That might make a difference? The second one doesn’t call for caraway at all.

    So is a caraway-heavy soup with Hungarian Paprika one of the ways to make goulash, or am I doing this wrong?

    Andrew Teeluck (né Molnar)

    • Dear Andrew,
      Well, first of all I dont remember my grandmother’s goulash having caraway seed in it but maybe she ground up a small amount and added it just for the flavor. Not everyone likes caraway seed. Joseph Pasternak, in his book “COOKING WITH LOVE AND PAPRIKA” adds “a DASH of caraway seed” to his recipe for Hungarian Goulash. Rosa Green in her cookbook HUNGARIAN AMERICAN COOK BOOK doesnt mention caraway seed at all in her recipe for Hungarian Goulash. I dont think there is a righr way or a wrong way; if you like a tablespoonful, then that’s your preference. I am inclined to increase the amounts of various spices if its something I really like and can get away with it with my family. I tend to use more authentic paprika in some of my recipes than what the recipe calls for…but sometimes end up getting it too hot. Whar all do you remember about your father’s Goulash?
      Regards, Sandy

      • Andrew, this is a ps to my earlier message – I consulted a cookbook titled FOODS WITH A FOREIGN FLAVOR, published by Favorite Recipes Press way back when (I can’t even find a copyright date in it) – there are half a dozen recipes for Hungarian Goulash – one even has elbow macaroni in it (that would have been a sacrilige to my grandmother) – and none of the six have any caraway seed in them. Again, this would be an individual preference – but I would add caraway very sparingly because you’d have a hard time removing the seeds once they were in the goulash. Best wishes – Sandy

  5. Andrew Teeluck

    Thanks for your reply Sandy. Maybe it’s a German or Austrian thing. My wife remembers years ago going to a German or Austrian clubhouse and having goulash soup, and she too remembers a distinct caraway flavour. Looking at recipes online, many German goulash soups have more caraway than any Hungarian goulash. So perhaps my dad was making a German variety instead. He also used “regular” paprika rather than Hungarian paprika, but perhaps the latter wasn’t as easy to find in Winnipeg ten years ago as it is today.


  6. Hello Andrew–your point is well made and it didnt cross my mind ro check German or Ausrrian cookbooks (my bad!) And my grandmother was German! My grandfather (dad’s side) was Hungarian and I never thought of the Hungarian goulash as a soup; it was thick, like a stew. A penpal of mine who lives in Saskatchewan has been educating me about all the Germans who settled in Canada–she has German roots too.And yes, Hungarian paprika has only recently become more available–I think due to the Food Network cooking shows in which the chefs talk about different kinds of paprika. I ordered several different kinds & then shared them with a brother who lives in Florida. Was so pleased to hear from another Canadian on my blog! (my grandparents settled in Cincinnati, Ohio, which had a heavily populated German community in the 1800s, early 1900s.Thank you again for writing. Sandy

  7. A great recipe I can’t wait to try out. I love Goulash and those adventurous enough to try it! I wish more would.

    I came up with my own version of a Hungarian Goulash. While different from your own, I think mine is a unique take on the dish. I’m new to the Food Blog scene and would love some feedback from a pro like you. Check out my recipe if have time.

    • Hi, Michele – thank you for writing. I wrote the original some time ago but that is one that can be resurrected from time to time. I only use real Hungarian pepper ever since I learned how important real paprika is. if you like I could sand you a sample. let me know. then I can send you some samples. – sandy

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