Issue 28

The Good Old Days: A Recipe for Goulash

The Good Old Days: A Recipe for Goulash

Once again friends we’re getting ready to enter into that mystical time of the year, between summer and fall, where the weather changes from one day to the next. A strong gust of wind and bright chromatic yellow, red and fiery orange leaves swirl around us chaotically and we hear the brittle crunch of leaves under foot. All the while, the marvelously musty aromas of fall enter our nostrils. For me, these smells and sounds conjure up distant childhood memories so real we can hear our childhood friends laughing as we careen through mountainous piles of leaves.

Scents and aromas have an innate power to trigger long forgotten memories and food is a portal through which we can metaphorically travel back in time to visit with loved ones long gone and treasured past events. Who hasn’t taken that first succulent bite of a dish and had their eyes close in ethereal bliss as we find ourselves in our beloved grandmother’s kitchen with her smiling countenance urging us to have another bite of our favorite meal? Although the term “comfort food” has been co-opted by the mass marketed food machines there is a deep truth buried within. One forkful of a childhood meal can fill us, not just with food, but with tangible, joyful memories of times past.

Well, friends, I believe the recipe for this issue will have many of you traveling back with me as I recreate one of my mother’s dishes. I believe we used a DeLorean last time, but I think this time we best use the good doctor’s Tardis for our food adventure.

As I step out of the phone box, I find myself in small town Nebraska, there’s a chill in the air, leaves tumbling by as I walk home from school. I meander, slowly relishing each of the varied emotions that are triggered with every scent of the season the wind carries past me. As I arrive home, dusk has settled in and the magic of twilight is upon us. Porch lights begin flickering to life and I hear locusts beginning to sing their last songs of the year. I walk through the doorway and see the soft glow of my mother’s caring smile welcoming me home and, even though she’s had a full day at work, she always makes the time to gather the family together. She asks how my day was as she sets down a large pot of goulash on the dining room table.

My mom has been gone for many years now and unfortunately this was one recipe I hadn’t had her write out for me. However, as I was laboring to recreate this dish I swear I could feel her watchful loving presence guiding me until I finally got it just right. And yes, I may have updated the recipe slightly with some modern twists, but I know Mom would approve.

After several evenings and numerous tries, I sat down again at the table and lifted a fork to my mouth, closed my eyes and found my fourteen-year-old self sitting at the table with Mom and Dad, another bite of goulash, a slice of thickly buttered bread and not a care in the world. If you grew up in Nebraska, I’m sure you have fond memories of the classic American Midwestern style “goulash” as well. So, why not jump in the Tardis with me as we set the console controls for a comforting visit and leave our stressed-out selves far behind for a few minutes to visit the good old days? I also want to challenge us all to participate in the lost art of dining. To have memories to travel back to, we first have to consciously craft a place for this to happen. Let’s dust off the dining room table, turn off the electronics, light a candle and in between savoring bites of delicious food, let’s fill our hearts and minds with thoughtful conversations of life’s events. Drink in long draughts of not only wine, but also drinking deeply of the intoxicating joy of being with those we love and cherish. 

Special thanks to Patrick Wright for the wonderful photography for this article and his willingness to join me in traveling down the corridors of fall memories during the photo shoot.

 

American Style Goulash

Serves 6

2 pounds ground beef 80/20

2 cups yellow onions, chopped

1 cup green pepper, chopped

1/2 tsp kosher salt

4 medium garlic cloves, finely minced

2 Tbsp sweet Hungarian paprika (I like Penzey’s best)

2 Tbsp tamari soy sauce

1 Tbsp Worcestershire

2 bay leaves (fresh if available)

2 14.5 oz. cans diced tomatoes with juice

2 15 oz. cans tomato sauce

2 cups water

Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

2 cups uncooked macaroni (elbow is classic or feel free to use whatever shape you fancy, I promise Mario won’t yell at you)

 

Directions:

Simmer beef in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Stir to break up any large chunks, until there is no pink left in the beef. Add 1/2 tsp kosher salt, several grinds of black pepper, onions and green peppers. Stir occasionally until the onions are translucent. Drain excess fat. Add the garlic and paprika and stir for 30 seconds and then add the next six ingredients. Bring to a boil and then turn the burner to low and simmer covered for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. At this point uncover and cook down to desired thickness (I prefer it fairly soupy, but whatever you like is best). Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

While the sauce is simmering, cook the pasta a couple minutes less than the package directions, being sure to use plenty of salt in the water. Test the pasta; it should be a little less than al dente (Italian for ‘to the tooth’, or pasta that still has a little bite left at the center). You want the pasta to be slightly underdone so that when added to the sauce it absorbs the flavors as it finishes cooking in the sauce. Add the cooked pasta to the sauce, turn up the heat to medium and cook for a couple minutes till the pasta is al dente. Serve with a bread with a crust and with lots of butter.

Enjoy the memories!

 

Charles Schlussel

Charles Schlussel

Professional head shaver, reckless adventurer, erstwhile semi-pro skydiver*(*amateur lander), fanatical tomato lover, All around awesome cook extraordinaire.


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