Hungarian Goulash, and My New Found Love of Paprika (FAK Friday)

Hungarian Beef Goulash
Hungarian Beef Goulash (Gulyás Leves)

If you asked me a couple weeks ago what my favorite spices were, paprika would not have made the list. Not by a long shot. In fact, I hardly thought of paprika as anything more than a dash of color atop deviled eggs. Besides it’s bright hue, what was it even good for?

Now I stand completely and utterly corrected. Paprika, a spice made from dried and ground peppers, is not just for appearances… it’s full of flavor! The smell alone is intoxicating, ranging from sweet and mild to hot, sharp, rich, and smokey. It’s used across the globe as a prime ingredient in many dishes, and makes up some of my favorite seasoning blends. Where has this stuff been hiding all my life?

The answer, it seems, lies in the fact that every grocery store I’ve ever set foot in carries one lonely jar of red powder labeled ‘Paprika’, and tasting of nothing. What are they even selling us, anyway, colored sawdust? I knew there had to be more to this spice than met the eye (and tongue), so I dug a little deeper, into the shelves of Penzey’s Spice House, and I came away with one of my new favorite ingredients. Real Hungarian paprika.

It’s FAK Friday (Feeding my Appetite for Knowledge) and this week is all about highlighting my new favorite spice. Traditional Hungarian Gulyás Leves (Goulash Soup) is rich and intense with the flavors of paprika, and is an inexpensive meal that can easily be made in advance. It was this dish that first brought paprika to my attention, and now I can’t get enough of it. What’s your favorite use for this spice? Let me know in the comments below!


Hungarian PaprikaHungarian Paprika

Have you ever seen such a gorgeous spice? Even the name feels good on the tongue. Go on, say it with me: paprika!

This stuff isn’t just for looks, though. Good quality paprika can pack some serious flavor. It also happens to have a boat-load of vitamin C in it. Who knew?

Paprika is made from a blend of peppers from the capsicum annuum family, and can range from sweet and mild, to sharp and spicy. Sometimes the peppers are smoked as they dry, creating a rich and powerful aroma. Paprika (meaning, quite literally, peppers), is common in many parts of the world, but is primarily associated with Hungary, Spain, and Portugal. Different varieties are available depending on where you are, and can be found in many grades ranging in both color and flavor.

In the States, Paprika is often used as a garnish, or a bright pop of color. In many other countries, however, it finds its place as a primary ingredient in dishes like soups and stews, where the cooking brings out the full flavor. Sadly, I’ve found that much of the Paprika sold in the US pales in comparison to the true Spanish or Hungarian spice – perhaps another reason why it is so under appreciated, here. A good source for quality Paprika, as well as other spices, is Penzey’s Spice House (if there isn’t one near you, check out their website, here: they’ll happily ship).

All About Paprika - Sweet, Spicy, & Smoked
Hot, Smokey, and Sweet Paprikas

For this recipe I used both Hungarian Sweet Paprika, and Hungarian Half-Sharp. The sweet paprika has found itself at the forefront of my spice rack – I use in just about everything from seasoning my sweet potato fries, to sprinkling over popcorn – while the sharp, spicy paprika makes its appearance in things like my breakfast hash, or blended with other seasonings and used as a rub for meats. As for the Smoked Paprika, which I couldn’t resist adding to my collection, I’ve found a little goes a long way. Just a dash added to a pan full of vegetables can give incredible richness and depth of flavor.

Hungarian Beef Goulash 

Hungarian Gulyás Leves (or Goulash Soup), is a traditional dish of beef, pork, veal, or lamb. The name, Gulyás, comes from the Hungarian meaning “herdsman”, because it was typically these herdsman who prepared it. Like many well-loved dishes, Gulyás has its roots in humble beginnings. It is traditionally made with “lesser quality” cuts of meat, like the shank, shoulder, or shin. These less prized pieces are cooked slow and low, to break down the tough connective tissue and transform the dish into something amazing. This type of cooking not only turns a tough piece of meat tender, but also works to thicken and flavor the soup in a way other pieces of meat simply can’t. No need to splurge on expensive steak, here! Ask your butcher for the shank, leg, or chuck roast, instead.

Gulyás Leves comes from a family of stews, including Pörkölt and Paprikás, all of which rely heavily on paprika for flavoring. The meat is braised and simmered along with bell peppers, paprika, and caraway seeds. The broth is made rich by the slow cooking of the meat, and needs no flour to thicken it. It is typically served over dumpling-like egg noodles called nokedli (similar to Spätzle), but I particularly enjoy it on its own with a hunk of rustic rye bread. Like most things of this ilk, Gulyás is even better the next day, after the flavors have had a chance to mingle and get to know each other. Why hello, Caraway Seeds, fancy seeing you here!

Recipe Notes: Goulash is best made with tougher, cheaper cuts of meat – look for the shank, leg, shoulder, or chuck roast – and is cooked for at least a couple of hours. This can probably be done in a slow cooker, though I’ve never tried it. It is also important to use a good quality paprika, as it makes up the primary flavor of this dish. You can purchase Hungarian paprikas online, here: Penzey’s Spice House.

Hungarian Beef Goulash (Gulyás Leves)
Serves 8 – loosely adapted from Tyler Florence

2-3 TBSP bacon grease or vegetable oil
2 medium onions, finely chopped
3 lbs. beef shank, chuck roast, or shoulder, cut into 1/2-1 inch cubes
3 TBSP sweet Hungarian paprika
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
5-6 cups low-sodium beef broth, or water (either, or any combination of the two, is fine)
2 large russet potatoes, cut into 1/4-1/2 inch cubes
2 large carrots, cut into 1/4-1/2 inch half-rounds
2 red or green bell peppers, diced
2 Hungarian wax peppers, or banana wax peppers, seeded and finely diced
2 tsp. whole caraway seeds, toasted*
1/4-1/2 tsp. hot Hungarian paprika, or to taste
1 1/2 TBSP red wine vinegar
Salt, to taste
Fresh chopped flat-leaf parsley, for garnish

Egg noodles, rye bread, or pumpernickel bread, for serving – optional

*To toast caraway seeds, place in a dry pan over medium-low heat and shake or stir for a few minutes, or until fragrant. The seeds can be added to the soup whole, or ground with a spice grinder or mortar and pistil. I prefer them whole.

1.   Place a large heavy pot or dutch oven over medium heat and add the bacon grease or vegetable oil. Saute the onions, stirring frequently, until translucent.
2.   Turn the heat to high, and add the cubed beef, sweet paprika, and a pinch of salt. Stir constantly for several minutes, or until the meat is seared on all sides. Add the minced garlic and cook for a minute or two more.
3.   Add about four cups of broth or water (enough to cover the meat) and bring to a boil, then cover and lower the temperature to simmer. Cook for about 1.5 – 2 hours, or until the meat is tender, stirring occasionally and adding more water or broth as needed to keep the meat covered.
4.   Once the meat begins to feel tender, add the potatoes, carrots, bell peppers, wax peppers, caraway seeds, hot paprika, and vinegar. Return to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to simmer for another 20-30 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender but not mushy. Again, add a little more broth or water as necessary, to keep a soup consistency.
5.   Season to taste with salt, and more hot paprika, if you like. Serve over nokedili egg noodles, or with a rustic loaf of bread.

19 thoughts on “Hungarian Goulash, and My New Found Love of Paprika (FAK Friday)

  1. shannon weber

    preach it, girl. Honestly, i don’t get my paprika from anyone but Penzey’s because they have such a great selection and it’s so different from the “whatever” variety you find in most stores. I always have the sweet and smoked on hand, and i love them. it’s so versatile!

    1. Willow

      Exactly! And I absolutely adore Penzey’s – there’s a one in Geneva, just outside of Chicago, and The Fiance and I swing by there every time we go to visit The Family. I have a similar spice house closer by, but they don’t have nearly the same selection, not to mention helpful staff.

  2. Jennifer

    I had a similar paprika awakening this past winter when I cooked up a Paprika Spiced Cauliflower Soup. Up until that point, I sort of thought of paprika as more of a garnish. I’ll be trying your goulash. (Beautiful photos, btw!)

  3. Courtney J

    Love paprika. Whenever I’m in Minneapolis for vacation, I stock up at Penzey’s. Wish we had one here!!! :) I’m almost out of smoked spanish paprika. This goulash looks delicious! :)

    1. Willow

      Thanks, Courtney! Isn’t Penzey’s the best? I love the variety, too… I get my cinnamon and vanilla there, because they sell several different kinds of each. Don’t know what I’d do without them!

  4. Anonymous

    Just made it. Very good. I highly reccomend a dollop of sour cream with parsley and lemon zest mixed in. Take a spoonful of the liquid and drizzle it over the sour cream so that it begins to run together. Definitely makes it pop!

    1. Willow

      Wonderful, I’m so glad you liked it! The sour cream is a great idea, I’ll have to try that with some of my leftovers. Thanks for the tip! :)

  5. Anonymous

    Real Hungarian paprika is a special spice; so different from the American stuff
    we just use to give deviled eggs a bit of color.


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