Serbian Goulash

 First Cousin to Hungarian Goulash

Though I knew that Serbia was beside Hungary, as we entered the county, the difference between the two was dramatic. The food, however, is similar in many ways. Serbian Goulash is a national dish there, as it is in Hungary. Each is moderately different from the other. Contrary to Wikipedia, Serbian goulash rarely has vegetables in it which is a reflection of the countryman’s love of meat. Serbia is a country of carnivors. There is no doubt about that. In my experience, Serbian Goulash is simpler; however, do not mistake that as lacking in breadth or depth. Serbian food (the food of the entire former Yugoslavia) is most overlooked and one of the tastiest cuisines in the world.

In Hungary, goulash can be made in the consistency of a soup or a stew. In Serbia, the sauce must be plentiful, and not thick, but it would never be considered a soup. Neither goulash is thickened with flour. It is thickened with the gelatinous meats used in the stew and in Hungary, sometimes with potatoes. There are also a variety of vegetables in the famous Hungarian Goulash which is not the case in Serbian Goulash.

This is a dish that spells home to every Serbian man, woman and child. It is always served with mashed potatoes. And bread. There will always be bread. Just in case the potatoes didn’t quite soak up all of the lovely juices. The bread is poised to sop up the rest.

I used round steak from Nature’s Green Acres Nouveau Beef. Vanja’s mother would buy a piece of meat from her butcher of the cow that is worked hard and cook it down low and slow. It is all about the flavour driven by frugality. Most people have pork in their freezers and buy beefs from the butcher. This is a poor country, but this is a country where the people eat very well because they know how to make everything from scratch and are very good at it. This aspect of the culture has changed dramatically in the cities the past 10 years, but it remains the same in the countryside.

The meat is not browned first, but the onions are caramelized which sets the rich foundation for this flavourful stew. I made a double batch, but caramelized the onions in two batches.

The simplicity of adding water to cover the onions just makes sense. Above, I have put both batches of onions into the pan and covered them with water to simmer. Why a double batch? I know my husband. This recipe says it serves four. That means two at our house. Remember, these people love their meat! After the onions have simmered, the parsley, paprika and bay leaves are added into the mix, with salt and pepper to taste. The bouquet garni has the bay leaves in it to save me from searching for them later. (Keep in mind you are seeing a double batch of ingredients in these photos. ) This is a land of paprika, or red peppers. The peppers grown in these Eastern countries are the best in the world. Ajvar is a famous dish in the homes of Balkan people. There is still not a commercial company who makes it anywhere close to to the people in their homes. Dried paprika is so fragrant and fresh that the paper bag I buy it in is wet from the oils in the peppers by the time I get home. You must use a really good paprika for this dish. Serbian paprika for Serbian Goulash! :)

Parsley? Darn! And I know the difference a little of this makes to developing a complex flavour! So, knowing where the snow fell over it, out I scampered to retrieve enough for this dish! I found a branch and pulled it out from under the snow! Brrrr! The leaves were still lush and beautiful under those freezing white crystals!

Chunks of meat are added into the mix and all is once again covered with water and simmered. This is the point where simmering for a long time is really important when you have a tough cut of meat. You can see my pan is now too full, and I need to transfer the goods to a larger pot for this part of the process.

Salt, pepper and Vegeta added, and it is good to simmer! Vegeta is a seasoning salt that is used throughout Eastern Europe in almost everything. You can buy it with or without msg so watch that on the label. It can be found at any major grocery store and at almost all European independent grocers.

This evening, we are having our dear family friend, Vanja to dinner. Yes, there is another Vanja. The sun is going down, so the tomato juice is added now as we will be eating shortly, but the rest of the pictures will be taken tomorrow when the sun is up again! The intensity of the colour of this stew surprised me. The flavour is lovely, and after the tomato juice was added, the acid made a significant difference to balancing the overall flavour, but I could not discern any tomato flavour, per se.

Did I tell you I needed to make a double batch? V and V devoured half of the pot of stew, and then I sent another good portion home with our guest to enjoy the following day. This is what remains for you to see. I would say there was a decent dent put in this dish and that is was definitely a hit.

There was no flour added to this dish. It had definitely thickened up the second day, but without any flour added.

A nice portion was draped over the remaining riced potatoes and made a nourishing, nurturing lunch the next day and there was still enough for one more meal.

There is nothing fancy-schmancy about this dish. It is home food. A simple dish with basic ingredients that bring love and comfort to your kitchen table. Especially if your mother used to make it for you growing up!

We wives who marry those men work to please! :)

Serbian Goulash


  • 600g onion, minced
  • 3 T oil
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tablespoons Vegeta
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 T fresh parsley, minced
  • 2 teaspoons red paprika
  • 600g beef, cubed
  • 250ml tomato juice
  • 1 t basil


  1. Sauté onion in the oil, once caramelized, cover with water and simmer for 20 minutes
  2. Add paprika, bay leaf, parsley and cubed meat to onion mixture; cover with water, stir and simmer until meat is cooked, adding more water if needed
  3. Simmer for as long as possible; the longer it simmers, the better it tastes, stirring from time to time
  4. Add Vegeta, tomato juice and season with salt and pepper 15 minutes before service
  5. Just prior to service, add basil or garnish with it


      • Irena Djordjevic says

        I grew up eating Hungarian goulash made by Serbian parents, your recipes is similar to my dads, although he always put beef kidney in his i know not many like kidney but it is very tasty. Give it a try you will be pleasantly surprised,


        • Valerie Lugonja says

          Wonderful to meet you!
          My husband loves kidney! What a great idea – I would just not have a clue how to cook it.
          Suggestions are welcome! Beef kidney, I assume?

        • Sasha says

          There used to be a place in Belgrade, on top of Skadarlina, that served kidney goulash in a rustic bun.
          Just a small whole in a wall place with a window and always you had to wait in line to buy it.
          To bad it’s not there any more.
          I think that they were lamb kidneys

          • Valerie Lugonja says

            I think I have been there! My husband was crushed when it closed as he loved to visit for a bite when we were there on holiday!

      • Sasha says

        I’m from Serbia and cook as well.
        As you know, there are a lot of variations on goulash, from region to region and even home to home, the version with tomato is more north eastern part, bordering Hungary, ie Croatia.
        Serbian goulash however, by Serbian cooking school, is only made with lots of onions, meat, paprika, that’s it! And cooking school also had us strain the onions after cooking so that all that’s left is sauce and meat.
        Having said that, out of school we never did strain the onions as it is the best part! I always use twice as much onions as meat and its heavenly! I can eat it for days and it keeps on getting better every day.

        • Valerie Lugonja says

          Wonderful to meet you! Thank you for the information! I agree about the onions, wholeheartedly!

  1. says

    When I was in Bratislava I was traveling with a vegetarian and it was very difficult for her to find food to eat. I think she ended up eating a lot of kneidlach (I don’t remember the actual name of the food, but little dumplings). I ate a lot of gulash!

    • Valerie Lugonja says

      A vegetarian in Eastern Europe would STARVE! We didn’t get to Bratislava, but were in Budapest for a few days and traveled through the countryside to Vienna. Gorgeous country!

  2. says

    I don’t especially enjoy to cook, Valerie, but you certainly have the knack for making it sound appealing. I have a meat eating man in tow who loves his bread and spuds, so I think this might make it onto the menu for tomorrow night. Dad’ll be coming too, and he’s Polish so I suspect, will be equally happy.

    • Valerie Lugonja says

      Easy dish for dinner, and men do seem to love it in all of its meaty glory – with bread and potatoes. Sneaking in a lively green salad is required and I shake my finger until it is alllll gone!

  3. says

    Wow! You have me practically licking my screen and that is rare indeed! I love this and am so making it! I made Hungarian Goulash a couple of times and we love that kind of rich meat dish, warming, just spicy enough and with loads of sauce for sopping up with rice or bread. This looks amazing! But one question, Val, are the quantities you give your doubled recipe or the original recipe? I love making more than we need for a meal and eating it two or even three days in a row!

    • Valerie Lugonja says

      HI, Jamie
      Thanks for stopping by! The quantities are for four people and that is the single recipe.

  4. says

    I am sitting here at the computer drooling and that’s AFTER I’ve had dinner! What a GREAT recipe – you tip on using really good paprika is priceless and essential. The caramalised onions are just gorgeous and you can just see how very very good this will turn out. I’mm adding this along with your meat sauce on my must make list :)

    chow! Devaki @ weavethousandflavors

  5. Kathleen says

    Your tomato juice looks much thicker than what we call juice. Could it be called tomato sauce in the US? Thank you.

    • Valerie Lugonja says

      HI, Kathleen
      Juice will work, but our tomoato juice here is thickish, for sure. I didn’t have any juice, so I juiced some tomatoes I had canned.

  6. Tess says

    When I was a child, my Yugoslavian neighbor used to make this dish, and it was divine! I would very much like to duplicate this recipe. I have a question regarding the Paprika to order. I see there is Hungarian Paprika in either Hot or Sweet. Do you have a brand that you recommend? Thanks! :-)

    • Valerie Lugonja says

      Hi, Tess,
      I actually get it when I go over every year, but the best paprika you can buy will make a difference. It must be fresh. Mine is so fresh, the paper bag I buy it in gets a “wet” looking stain from the oils in the peppers the paprika is made with.

        • Valerie Lugonja says

          You can use either sweet, or hot, Tess… the hot is spicy – the sweet is not. Whatever your palate enjoys. I don’t care for the hot and most goulashes are not made with the hot paprika.

  7. Nevenka says

    Thankyou Valerie for recipe, and Sasha for your variation. Just wondering have you ever tasted the tinned beef goulash (Podra vk a brand I think- made in Croatia) which has a very strong paprikas base. Does this recipe also have a strong sweet paprika base? I think here in Australia your tomato juice would be equivalent to our tomato puree (sold in 600ml tall jars Italian pureed tomato). Which reminds me to make a puree now from the extra tomatoes I have, as I plan to start cooking your recipe Valerie tonight. I am looking forward to discovering more of your recipes Valerie- thankyou for sharing them.

    • Valerie Lugonja says

      Wonderful to hear from you. It doesn’t have a strong paprikas base, no… but you could alter that with your own palate by adjusting the seasonings. I find this an excellent classic recipe. How did it work for you? I have never had the canned goulash, no. :)

      • Nevenka says

        Delicious! I used about 7 medium onions to 650grams of gravy beef. My dd was horrified at the amount of onions I was caramalising as she dislikes onions. At the end the onions were just beautifully incorporated into the dish, almost melted away. Although I was apprehensive, I really liked the pureed tomato added to it- made it really special.
        I used 2 large old (biggest) tablespoons of hungarian sweet paprika and did not find it at all overpowing- did not taste too paprikas to me. I could not resist browning the meet and paprika (and 3 cloves of garlic) before adding to the caramalised onions- next time I will definately follow Valerie’s recipe and skip browning the meat.
        Covered the whole lot with water (to about 4.8 litres of my 5,2 litre enamelled cast iron casserole). I then added the vegeta immediately, bay leaves (were 5 too many? extremely aromatic!), the top leaves of 3 celery heads which I removed prior to serving. And very naughty me, despite my best efforts, I could not stop myself from adding diced potatoes and carrots about 2 hours before serving. I wonder if I will ever be able to stick to an authentic, traditional recipe? I find it so hard to hold back from adding nutritious vegetables. At least I did not add any frozen peas- so tempted was I. I remember my mum telling me the story of stone soup when I was young- perhaps she repeated it once too often?
        And the worst thing I did was to add stodgy, dense, tastless plain flour and egg dumplings at the end- yuk! Ended up scooping them all out and straight in the bin. Ate the goulash with my mum’s freshly baked heavy bread instead.
        Biggest regret was not making a double, or even triple batch. Perfect consistency after evaporating down- just like in your pictures Valerie- after about 6 hours of slow cooking on the stove in my enamelled cast iron pot.
        Thankyou so much for this recipe and description Valerie. Don’t anyone even think about straining anything.

        • Valerie Lugonja says

          I make it differently now and just last night – the humble way
          All the onions caramalized, the meat, broth, not water, and the bay leaf, paprika, vegeta , salt and pepper…. And just cook for 30 minutes until meat is done, thicken with a bit of flower – over pasta or mashed potatoes with a large salad. Keep it simple, Nevenka!

          • Nevenka says

            Thanks for this Valerie- I did just that and the meat browned before my eyes as I dropped it in the hot broth but I had to slow cook my meat for longer- 2 hours was the minimum for me because I used a mix of chuck steak and rump steak. Made a huge potful- 5.2 litres- delicious and thickened using flour. Lots left over in the fridge which will be used as pie filling- I have never made pies before so hopefully will be as simple as blind baking the bottom shortcrust pastry, filling with cold goulash mix already nicely thickened, and topping off with puff pastry.
            Re. keeping it simple- my mum who I thought was a very traditional authentic cook for many years, until age and smaller numbers of dinner guests caught up with her, told my husband her cooking secret for the past few years:
            “Put a packet of French Onion soup mix in everything you cook- make everything taste better”- she declared, as she pulled 6 packets of home brand plain packaged French onion soup mix out of her bag. My husband and I are still in disbelief at this confession of hers- a salt laded packet mix was her secret ingredient for how long??????????? We have never tried it just because too much salt in those packet mixes (young child in family) but this is a woman for whom preserved meats, salamis and cabbages home preserved in salt are the norm. And I suppose even Vegeta has a lot of salt in it- and may be just as much salt as a cheap packet of French Onion soup- so everyone has secret shortcuts it seems, especially as we get older, wiser and tireder.

            • Nevenka says

              P.S. I did throw in about 250 grams of frozen baby peas into my Serbian Goulash to thicken it up and add some gooey greenness- yummm – see I will definitely never be able to stick to an authentic traditional recipe- however I am still drooling over that photo you have of sarma stuffed cabbage leaves in which the cabbage leaves are transluscent and the smoked meat beside it is perfectly not oily, not dry and not fatty- I dream about it- so that is one authentic recipe I will follow to the letter and not make one ounce of a miscalculation on.

              • Nevenka says

                P.P.S. During a function at my parents home many years ago- my mother in law asked me “What sort of pastry is that- so delicious?”
                She was totally in disbelief when I answered it is cabbage leaf, not pastry. I must cook it (the Sarma- stuffed cabbage leaf like your mother in law use to make for you) for her this Christmas.

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