In The Book of Summers, Erzsi remembers Marika making a wickedly hot goulash just to put the frighteners on her English relatives... "On the rare occasions that my aunt visited, Marika used her extra hot paprika in the goulash soup she made, and filled the house with gypsy music that made the cobwebs tremble."
I think a recipe should be a starting point for inspiration, rather than something to be followed slavishly, and goulash is a great dish for freestyling. Despite what the purists may say, for me the only essential ingredients are beef and paprika... after that, it's a case of adding lots of what you fancy and less of what you don't. So if the inclusion of lard in the list below makes you balk, just swap it for a good splash of extra virgin. Or if you're not keen on the reedy taste of celery, throw in some more onions. I like my goulash to have a real kick but milder versions are good too - just add your chilli and paprika according to taste. I also prefer it to have the consistency of a stew rather than soup, but if you like the latter, just add more liquid. Here's beef goulash the way I make it...
Lard - a golf ball sized hunk (or however much your conscience can take)
750g-1kg beef (depending on how greedy you're feeling) - stewing steak or casserole
2 x large onions - chopped finely
1 x teaspoon of dried chili flakes (or more... )
3 x stems of celery - chopped chunkily
2 x cloves of garlic - finely chopped
2 x heaped tablespoons of paprika* (medium strength)
Beef stock - approximately 1 pint
2 x red peppers - sliced lengthways
1 x yellow pepper - sliced lengthways
1 x dried or fresh chili pepper - thrown in whole for extra heat (optional)
Chives & sour cream for garnish
Salt and pepper for seasoning
*I also like to use a spoonful of hot paprika paste (see jar in picture) - you can buy this from specialist Hungarian delis online.
I like my goulash accompanied by gnocchi - a little Italian-Hungarian combination that works brilliantly - and a zingy side of cucumber salad. This might seem like a wintry dish but to me it says 'summer'; hot sun on your skin, fire on your tongue and in your belly. And if you're serving your goulash at lunchtime there's nothing more perfect for dessert than an afternoon snooze in the shade. Jo étvágyat!