Food is the gift of choice for family members past the age of thirty at our house. A gooey cake and ice cream take a back seat to a meal that celebrates our ethnic heritage. For our son’s recent birthday dinner, I prepared one of his grandfather’s favorite dishes, Székely goulash (gulyás in Hungarian). My father had loved the rich food of his Hungarian childhood, and this devotion continues to nurture the memory of successive generations.
Like my father’s family who had immigrated from Russia in the 19th century, Székely goulash is a recent import from Transylvania. Unlike the traditional gulyás prepared by ‘cowboys’ who herd cattle on Hungary’s southern plains, this modern stew is better suited to a family setting. In place of the original mix of tough cuts of beef, wild onions, caraway and paprika simmered slowly in a cauldron over a fire, Székely goulash is made with pork, garlic, sauerkraut and sour cream.
The attraction of this updated version of goulash is the speed with which it delivers essential flavors of Hungarian cuisine. Onions are softened in a heavy skillet with garlic then pushed to the sides of the pan. Pork tenderloin nuggets are browned in the center then covered with a little flour and lots of sweet Szeged Paprika (sold in a red tin at my local Jewel) and caraway seeds. It takes less than 15 minutes for the lean pork to cook through after a meat stock is added. Stir in sour cream, and Voila! (or whatever they say in Hungarian)
Boiled potatoes or egg noodles are the traditional starches that accompany this stew, but I prefer to serve a slice of steamed yeast dumpling. The dough is easy to assemble and doubles in size in an hour. I nestle the risen dough in the steamer basket of my pasta pot over simmering water and steam it for about 20 minutes. The loaf rises impressively and slices easily fresh out of the pan. The yeast dumpling acts like a bread sponge and soaks up the rich juices of the Székley goulash. Their combined flavors stimulates a wealth of childhood memories of an ephemeral past.