Vegetarian Goulash

Early in my two year stint teaching in Hungary, I learned that what my mother called goulash was not like the Hungarian dish. Mother’s goulash consisted of onions sauteed with ground beef to which tomato sauce and elbow noodles were added. It was served on a plate. In Hungary, goulash (gulyas on the menu there) was always a soup. Like chili, it was a hearty blend of flavors that could mask the taste of aging meat. Ingredients varied by locality, but there were some guidelines.

Hungarians traditionally use few spices. The flavor comes from the main ingredients. However, caraway seeds are used along with paprika to create real goulash. Additional flavorings other than salt would not count as authentic. Traditional goulash is a meaty soup made by herdsmen on the Hungarian plain. But the flavors they blended can work well with beans and mushrooms for a vegetarian option.

Soups in central Europe are commonly finished with dumplings. They can be firm dumplings which are kneaded and then pinched pieces are dropped by hand into the soup. Or softer dumplings with less flour can be added with a spoon. Before spooning the first dumpling, the spoon needs to be dipped into the boiling soup so that the dumpling will slide off. My vegetarian goulash with soft dumplings looked like this:

The dumplings are floating in the pot on the left. In the bowl on the right is the rich broth that results from cooking beans at a higher than usual recommended setting. If cooking dried beans for a salad only low temperature should be used. But since I like a thick broth, I prefer to crank up the heat and let the beans burst in soups.

The paprika available outside of Hungary is not going to be exactly like what is available there. Shops in Hungary will have a selection of freshly ground paprika that ranges from edes (sweet) to csipos (literally pinching but we call it hot). I used mostly Badia paprika but added a bit of cayenne for some heat. The fresh peppers are also likely to differ. Most times what they use will be comparable in heat to an Italian frying pepper or Anaheim. However, I did experience peppers in a soup there with enough heat to make my upper lip perspire. So like chili, the heat depends on the maker’s preference.

Vegetarian Goulash ingredients:

1 pound dried pinto beans soaked overnight

2 medium onions

2 Tablespoons vegetable oil (sunflower was most common there)

2 medium tomatoes

peppers ( I used 8 jalepenos with seeds removed, but use what you like)

caraway seeds – 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon

1 garlic clove

8 oz. portobello mushrooms

1 pound potatoes

2 Tablespoons paprika

salt to taste


Saute chopped onions in oil a few minutes. Add beans, water to cover, caraway seeds and 1/2 the paprika. Boil 1 hour. If you want weaker broth but prettier beans keep the boil gentle. I recommend a rolling boil for quality broth. When beans are very close to done, add everything else and cook till potatoes are done. BTW dice the garlic and chop veggies. For finishing with dumplings: Combine 1 egg with 1/4 cup flour, 1 teaspoon oil and a little salt. Dip a teaspoon into boiling soup to heat it, then spoon 1/2 teaspoon of batter at a time into soup and boil 3-4 minutes. Jo etvagyat kivanok and bon appetit.




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