Mar 30, 2011

Recipe of the Week: Goulash (?)

When my foodie side joins forces with my word-geek side, you just never know where we will wind up.

Growing up, I think I remember us eating something we called "goulash."  My mother would never serve (or at least never admit to serving) Hamburger Helper, so I'm not sure why I gravitated to the boxed "Chili Macaroni" mix.  But as a young bride, I found my wonderful husband liked it as long as I added a can of diced tomatoes and we called it "goulash."  I really don't even know why we thought it should be called that - truth be told, I wasn't sure exactly what goulash really was.  (But I was pretty sure a boxed mix of something called "chili macaroni" probably wasn't going to be mistaken for authentic Hungarian cuisine, either. So I always felt a twinge of guilt when I called it that.)

A few months ago, I tried out a "Mexican Pasta Skillet" recipe from that wasn't bad for a Wednesday night one-dish-fits-all meal.  A side of crispy carrot sticks and celery, some bread and we had dinner ready before Bible study.  Score one for mom and e-mealz.  In fact, I'm probably going to repeat it tonight.

Of course, it tasted a whole lot guessed it: chili macaroni, aka "goulash."  There are some good things about this version, like
  • no MSG;
  • I can control the sodium content;
  • no mystery packet of seasoning, thank-you-very-much; and
  • it's easy and pretty cheap. 
No wonder he looks confused
As I was serving it, it got me thinking:  what is goulash really?  Am I insulting Hungarian heritage by appropriating this name for a very Americanized quick-food?  So I went looking, and was relieved to find I wasn't too far off.  Or at least not alone in calling my dish "goulash."  True classic Goulash is a braised meat (beef, lamb, venison, etc.) stew/soup.  Its ingredients vary depending on region, but it involves onions, paprika, and even tomatoes and pasta.  It is generally accepted that the American and Australian versions are made similar to good old "chili macaroni." So there we have it.

But wait!  Wikipedia (and they're always right, aren't they?) also says in the South, "goulash" describes a mishmash of foods. Wow - that seems kind of insulting.  And I discovered this Americanized version of goulash (typically made with tomatoes and elbow macaroni) is also called American Chop Suey in New England.  Say what?  Now we've dragged the Chinese into this multi-national culinary debacle, with a food that involves dried chili powder, tomatoes and pasta, and that all-American classic, ground beef?  No wonder the pudgy little helper guy always looked perplexed.  I figured it was the missing finger, but maybe it's something deeper than that.

So there you have it - the scoop on goulash.  Or chili macaroni, aka American Chop Suey, or now, Mexican Pasta Skillet.

Mexican Pasta Skillet 
(with some gentle revisions)

1 pound ground beef
16 ounces salsa*
1 1/2 cups water
1 cup canned corn, drained (I used frozen and would again)
2 cups elbow macaroni or other pasta
1 cup shredded cheddar
coarsely crushed Frito chips (optional)
sour cream (optional)

*Next time I'll use mild salsa or reduce this to half a jar of medium salsa and add a 15-ounce can diced tomatoes, undrained.  A full jar of medium-hot was a little too hot for us.

Brown ground beef and drain.  Add water, salsa and tomatoes; bring to boil.  Add pasta and corn; mix well and cover, reduce heat to simmer and cook for 12-14 minutes or until pasta is tender.  Before serving, sprinkle with cheese.

The original recipe didn't call for it, but knowing my family's preferences, next time I'll serve it with crushed corn chips and/or a dollop of sour cream on top of each serving. 

Hmmm....ever wonder why it's called it a dollop?  Maybe we'll figure that one out, too.

Happy cooking,