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Serbian Goulash

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 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! :)

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About Valerie Lugonja

Educator, Writer, Gardener and Traveler who believes in buying and eating locally, and most importantly cooking at home!

Join The Conversation!

  1. Lovely recipe Valerie. Hungarian Gulyas is a soup…. porkolt is the stew version.

    • Valerie Lugonja says:

      Thanks, Lizzy!
      Any other major differences you can chime in with! Would love to hear! :)
      V

      • 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,

        Regards
        Irena

        • Valerie Lugonja says:

          Irene!
          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? :)
          V

        • 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:

            Sasha!
            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! :)
            V

      • 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:

          Sasha!
          Wonderful to meet you! Thank you for the information! I agree about the onions, wholeheartedly! :)
          Valerie

  2. That looks delicious and comforting. And I, too, would eat at least 2 plates!

  3. 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:

      Kate!
      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! :)
      Valerie

  4. What a comforting stew! I’ve never made a goulash before but the caramelized onions and other ingredients make me want to have one now!

  5. I certainly didn’t know that there is a Serbian version of goulash. Very interesting post, Valerie, as always.

  6. 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:

      Johanne!
      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! :)
      V

  7. 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. :)
      Valerie

  8. 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

  9. 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. :)
      Valerie

  10. 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

      • Do you know if it calls for the sweet or hot? Or are they the same to you? Thanks :-)

        • 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. :)
          V

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