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Goulash and Church Cookbook Secrets

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Cooking, eating, and entertaining... it's why I collect recipes and share them. Plus I'm half Hungarian, which explains a lot.

Goulash was originally a camp dish in the Old Country

Beautifully presented bowl of Goulash

Beautifully presented bowl of Goulash

Church Cookbooks, Immigrants Legacy

These spiral bound recipe collections aren't the popular fund raising project they once were. Perhaps reflecting the fact that we aren't the avid home cooks we once were. I can't remember the time I swapped recipes face to face with a friend. It must have been a couple decades ago.

Now I get all my new recipes on Pinterest. But if you want a slice of how that important center of life, the kitchen, might have smelled and tasted when your grandparents came to this country... try looking through some of the old Church fundraising publications that featured the Ladies favorite foods.

Ethnic cookbooks published by immigrants of old were the repositories of their favorite everyday recipes. Some locally renowned home cooks of excellent ability and reputation, contributed the own rendition of many common dishes.

There were several paprikash, stuffed pepper and stuffed cabbage variations along with the famous goulash.

My Grandmother's Recipes

Of course, the culture of the church would be reflected within the cookbook they produced.

As I peruse my Grandmother's cookbooks, I come into contact with examples of fine Hungarian home cooking. She was the wife of a Hungarian Reformed Church Pastor, and one of her very favorite things in the world besides playing the organ was cooking!

Sadly, I rescued only a few of her many, many recipe books, but I had some of her hand written ones, from swaps with friends. And the thing is with some of these cooks of a bygone time, especially Hungarians, is that they never divulged their very best recipes. It was like pulling eye teeth. But my Grandmother (being the Reverend's wife and all) managed to lever out a few.

Hungarian Church Recipes

The story of these collections reflects something else going on in the culture of the offspring of the immigrants who originally baked and cooked according to their traditions. Along with everything else in their lives, they became Americanized.

Ingredients Weren't Always Available

If they couldn't grow it here, there might have been need for substitutions. Different foods became available, and inventive home cooks added them. Variations of old world foods were as widespread as the adventurous immigrants.

Well Loved Dish In Many American Homes

Anything that is quick and easy and delicious, too, is going to become an family favorite.

Anything that is quick and easy and delicious, too, is going to become an family favorite.

Dutch Oven

Cultural Cooking for American Tastes

This worked both ways, the flavors and recipes of a culture were modified and the American standbys received some tweaking of their own.

I see this clearly in the Church cookbooks which by and large are proudly presenting some family specialities, but also some of the food favorites of the day. For instance, The Dorcas Guild published a cookbook that starts out with Deviled eggs and Moss cheese ball (Bleu cheese rolled in chopped pecans), but then gives some favorites such as Kocsonya (jellied pigs feet) and Majas Nokedli (liver dumplings) and no less than three recipes for Csoroge which are my very favorite "cooky".

Served Over Medium Wide Noodles

C.C 2.0 on Flickr | This is how I like it: over noodles.

C.C 2.0 on Flickr | This is how I like it: over noodles.


For this dish, you add what you have to the mix. Do you love kohlrabi? Add that. Or chopped fresh sweet peppers, carrots, parsnips... you get the idea. Use the given recipe as a base.

Americanized recipes call for some catsup, and Worchestershire sauce. I like those additions, personally, because they make up for the loss of flavor we give up when we use leaner meats (fat gives flavor).

One Pot Meal

Cook everything in a large, heavy pot. A dutch oven is ideal.

You can add potatoes or make your own dumplings to add right into the pot, as well, although I usually cook noodles separately and serve the goulash over those.

Stewing, Slow Cooking Is Best

Prep timeCook timeReady inYields

30 min

3 hours

3 hours 30 min

Serves 8

Scroll to Continue

Use What You Have

  • 2 lb. Beef, Chuck or Round
  • 1 cup Onions, chopped
  • 2 cloves Garlic, minced
  • 3 Tbsp. Cooking Oil
  • 3/4 cup Tomato Sauce
  • 1 tsp. Vinegar
  • 1 tsp. Brown Sugar
  • 2 stalks Celery, chopped
  • 1 Parsley Root and Greens, minced
  • Black Pepper, to taste
  • 2 tsp Salt
  • 2 1/2 tsp. Sweet Hungarian Paprika
  • 1 tsp. Dry Mustard


  1. Brown beef chunks in the 3 T. fat (you choose the type of oil for your taste - regular vegetable oil is typical, although I have been substituting virgin olive oil.
  2. Add onions and garlic, stir and cook until softened.
  3. Mix together the spices, salt and pepper, and everything except the vegetables, add to meat.
  4. Add 2 cups water and bring heat to simmer. Add vegetables. Simmer about 2 to 2 1/2 hours
  5. Some cooks add a flour and water mixture to add thickening. Others add bread crumbs. Still others add only some homemade dumpling noodles later in the cooking (like the chef in the video at the bottom of this page.) I add 2 Tablespoons flour dissolved in 1/4 cup cold water. After addition of flour be sure to cook for long enough to thicken and lose the "raw" taste of the flour. Alternatively, add a roux to thicken.

Tips for Hungarian Paprika

I was cooking one of my favorite Hungarian dishes for my son and his supply of Hungarian paprika was outdated. When it turns dark and is out of date there is little flavor. He had grocery store paprika and a smoked version, but the flavors do not yield the same results. I had to make a special trip to obtain the real thing.

When storing your genuine Sweet Hungarian Paprika, consider refrigerating it if you won't be using it in a reasonable amount of time.It will last 3 to 4 years when stored properly.

  • Store in a cool, dark cupboard, away from direct heat or sunlight.

Fresh Hungarian Peppers, Test For Hotness

Add fresh Hungarian ( or "Banana") peppers. This type may range from sweet and mild to moderately hot. If spiciness is not desired, taste test the pepper before adding to your dish!

Add fresh Hungarian ( or "Banana") peppers. This type may range from sweet and mild to moderately hot. If spiciness is not desired, taste test the pepper before adding to your dish!

One Thing You Can't Change

The source of the paprika spice.

Not if you want real Hungarian flavor, at any rate.

The paprika tastes different from other kinds because of the climate and soils of Hungary.

The Paprika Must Be Hungarian

There are sweet, and hot types, but Hungarian paprika has a particular taste that nothing rivals. No substitutes, please. Regular grocery store paprika will leave a slightly bitter aftertaste. Look for "Sweet Hungarian". You can also order it online.

I include a table for the various designation of paprika flavors, but I usually use the Delicate. The others tend to be harder to find, although you can find almost anything on Amazon.

Types of Paprika


Special Quality

mildest and brightest red, excellent aroma.



light to dark red, a mild yet rich flavor

Édes csemege

Exquisite Delicate

slightly more pungent than Delicate


Pungent Exquisite Delicate

much more pungent Delicate

Csípos Csemege, Pikáns


Pale Red, strong aroma, mild pungency


Noble Sweet

most common paprika- bright red, slightly pungent



blend of mild and pungent paprikas



Light brown in color, this is the hottest paprika



  • Use real Hungarian Sweet Paprika, never a substitute
  • Make the beef base, then create your goulash with your favorite stew vegetables
  • Don't add the paprika during the beef browning, add it with the liquid. (paprika must not burn)

Are You Ready For A Comforting Beef Stew?

This is no run of the mill beef stew, and it is the paprika and the method that sets it apart. Trust me, this is real comfort food. Make it into the perfect meal by baking some homemade bread to serve with it, maybe instead of having it over noodles.

Are you ready to make this recipe? I hope so. And it is good enough to serve to friends at the bowl game get together, or have some simmering on the stove during busy holiday time.

Hungarian Cowboy


This is probably the most well known Hungarian cooking term. The original word is spelled "Gulyas" and it is something between a stew and a soup, but always highly flavored with paprika.

The Hungarian Cowboys and shepherds made it in a big iron pot cooking over an open fire out on the Puszta.

There are so many ways to make this dish that you just have to try a few to see which type is your favorite. I suppose it is the Hungarian version of chili. Hearty, easy to make, and flavorful way to cook beef stewmeat.

In our vernacular it also came to mean a hodgepodge or jumble of elements (1)

Trivia From Out On the Plains

In Magyarol (Hungarian), "gulyás" means "herdsman" which gave the name to this quasi stew/soup we call goulash. Goulash is the phonetic way English speaking people pronounce the Hungarian "s" which is an "sh" to us. The herdsmen cooked their meat in cauldron over an open fire out on the "Puszta" or open plains. Most often with beef as the main ingredient. Today we can use the recipe for any stewing meat we choose.

Why was paprika not added to the recipe for goulash until the 17th-century? Because the plant was brought to the country by the Turks only in the 16-17th centuries. It was the herdsmen on the plains who first introduced it into their cooking... then the peasants got wind of it... and finally, the Aristocrats caught on that this was a delicious flavoring.

Not until the 19th century was the production of paprika refined enough to control the amount of hotness in the spice. Kalocsa and Szeged are still the two main areas famous for their paprika. People from those areas were instrumental in improving the production process that results in the best paprika in the world.


How Accurate Are Self Published Recipes?

Obviously, they don't have the same professional checking and testing that a Cook's Magazine might, but overall I found that they produce a quality food product. Missing is the nutritional info, sometimes the baking pan sizes, and occasionally the details of cooking method.

I guess those old time cooks took for granted that we would know all that.

Because of the tested quality of a professional cookbook, we should look over the amateur recipes of a personal collection with a bit more scrutiny. Although the Hungarian ladies had much more trustworthy recipes than the ones published by my own Church (which shall remain unnamed).

My advice: test a recipe before serving to guests.

This Recipe

That said, this recipe is so simple, basic, and forgiving it will turn out well (and become one of your favorites) no matter what - as long as you follow the basic directions.

Cakes and baked goods aren't quite so forgiving!

Trinkets of Hungarian culture

Trinkets of Hungarian culture

A Word On Church Cookbooks

Church Cookbooks often hold sayings and poems, along with sweet little line drawings. Occasionally they have mistakes or repetitions of the same recipe. However, nothing is better for giving you a taste of the time and the interests of what often was the last bastion of the old country culture is ther loved, but strangely new world.

Authentic Goulash

The video gives the basics

There are a number of videos online, but this one is easy to follow with all the basics. Forget about the advice that you can use Spanish paprika.

Some people like a bit of fire added with jalapeno pepper.

This video advises caraway, while others say cumin. I don't usually add either of these.

If you have typical American tastes (love the meat, but not too spicy, this is the version for you)

© 2014 Ilona E


Sue on June 24, 2020:

Why do you use chicken stock instead of beef stock in the goulash?

Ramona from Arkansas on October 03, 2018:

I like this HUB. Especially because it just made me think of my Grandmother. I learned cooking from her. She mostly made Hungarian dishes. Hungarian Goulash was and still is my favorite. As time advanced it also became my daughters favorite dish. Thank you for sharing this.

Ilona E (author) from Ohio on May 19, 2015:

Thanks, Anne. It's like having a crowd of grandmas who share their favorite recipes.

Anne Harrison from Australia on May 19, 2015:

Hi Ilona E

A fascinating hub - the history and stories which fill those cookbooks is something too easily lost in this modern world. Thanks for sharing,

Anne on September 26, 2014:

The goulash looks amazing!

Jim from Kansas on August 26, 2014:

Sounds very good.

Cheryl Fay Mikesell from Mondovi, WI on August 22, 2014:

I love goulash. Nice recipe. I'll have to try it sometime.

MartieG aka 'survivoryea' from Jersey Shore on August 21, 2014:

Sounds like a wonderful winter dish-thanks for sharing

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