Home can be a lot of things to a lot of people. For me, my most profound sense of home is of lazy weekend days at my parents’ house. Even in my 30’s, married with a child, having owned my own house for many years, there are times that relaxing at my parents’ house still just feels like home. On these days, my dad can inevitably be found in his office engrossed in something on his computer, yet never missing a single piece of the conversation being had in the other room. At this point in our lives, my mom is quick to be entertaining the grandkids. Her ability to play whatever game the kids come up with is unparalleled. In the pre-kids era she was, (and still is, just a little less pointedly,) interested in every detail of our lives in the most genuine way.
On this snowy Sunday afternoon my mom suggested that we come to their condo to cook our next meal from around the world. When we found out that the country was Hungary and we’d be making goulash, they were excited for a chance to connect, have dinner made for them, and to play with their grandson. But, when they learned that the goulash didn’t involve ground beef and macaroni, they questioned my judgement on what goulash was and planned a secondary dinner option because they were half convinced that whatever I was making was going to be less than impressive.
As I combed through recipes, I learned that true Hungarian goulash is not filled with the Americanized ground beef and macaroni. Rather they use smaller cubes of beef, and noodles are not a necessity. If they do eat the meal with noodles it is often by pouring the goulash over top of egg noodles instead of adding them into the stew. The other key detail that I learned about how they do goulash in Hungary is that they use paprika, a lot, a lot, a lot of it. To give you a reference, we weren’t using our teaspoons to add paprika, we were using our measuring cups. Many recipes that I read through called for sweet Hungarian paprika. Unfortunately, our local store only carries hot Hungarian paprika. I was pretty stoked to find Hungarian paprika at all, but after tasting a small bit on my tongue I knew we could not add copious amounts of the hot stuff and still be able to pleasantly eat the meal. I settled for a mixture of your basic grocery-store paprika (though we’ve learned that there are many kinds of paprika) and the hot Hungarian. The finished product was the perfect level of heat for my family and we were surprised by the depth of flavor that the dish had when really the only main spice in the pot was paprika.
My dad, who was seriously skeptical about the meal at first, had two bowls and was excited to have leftovers for lunch the following day. This is a great meal to be reheated day after day for lunches or quick dinners. It’s hearty, packed with vegetables and beef, and the heat from the Hungarian hot paprika warms your insides on these cold and gray February days in Michigan.
As I read about Hungary, I also learned that they are a land of thermal waters. There are 1,500 thermal springs in Hungary and 450 public bath houses where you can go and enjoy their spa culture. The goulash is nice to warm me up, but I think I might prefer sitting in a thermal tub somewhere in Budapest.
Whatever home is to you, I hope you can rest and enjoy some time at home this week Whether you eat this goulash or some other favorite meal, pause to be grateful for that feeling of home.