Halloween may be the holiday known for candy, but it also ranks as one of my favorite holidays to invite folks over for a casual supper. Something hot and spicy ladled from a big cauldron on the stove is just too fitting, especially when accompanied by something carby, like a handheld chunk of cornbread or focaccia.
Goulash, a classic stew, richly flavored with beef and paprika, is a pillar of Hungarian cooking and integral to my family’s food culture. My grandparents on both sides served it regularly as family fare, using beef or chicken as budgets allowed. Potatoes stretch the dish and balance the meatiness while buttered egg noodles soak up the rich gravy-like sauce. Many middle European restaurants serve goulash as a side in small bowls or as a main with spaetzle and pumpernickel.
Fresh paprika, intensely flavored and deeply red, is essential. I start with a new container every fall. Fresh paprika is sweet and rich, unlike the pale orange powder in bottles on many home spice racks. Look for the red can of Hungarian sweet paprika from Pride of Szeged for reliably delicious paprika.
This fall, I’m employing a chef-style trick that my grandmothers never even considered: Browning the beef over the direct heat of a smoky grill. This is less messy than browning batches of meat in hot fat, which tends to splatter. Sure, it’s a bit of trouble to heat the grill, but you can brown the beef in advance after grilling something else and refrigerate it for up to two days. Be sure to cool the meat so you can handle it to cut it into pieces; refrigerated meat is easier to cut than warm.
For a ghoulish version, cut red bell peppers into “fingers” and stir in black-eyed peas at the end of the simmering. Place cooked orecchiette or egg noodles into serving bowls before ladling the goulash on top. Purchase thick tomato-topped focaccia or crusty ciabatta to mop up all the goodness in the ghoulish goulash bowl.
For a meatless main that is reminiscent of a bowl of goulash, make a red pepper and tomato pasta sauce spiked with dried mushrooms and beer to replace the umami flavor from the meat. Stir cooked pasta into the sauce and bake before serving with or without a melty cheesy top.
Dessert should be cool and refreshing after the sweet heartiness of paprika. Using leftover Halloween candy, stir chopped candy bars into softened vanilla or chocolate ice cream. Or you can try scoops of lemon sorbet sprinkled with crumbled butter cookies, sweet paprika and coarse salt.
Grilling your meat saves tons of kitchen mess and adds a desirable smokiness to this otherwise classic Hungarian goulash recipe.
If you're vegetarian or just don't feel like eating beef, this comforting rigatoni casserole has all the flavors of classic goulash with the generous addition of cheese.