The last gasp of winter means the last gasp of winter comfort food! I can't claim any Hungarian heritage, and I haven't yet visited the country. But when I was a kid, my mother made Hungarian Goulash fairly often, out of a midcentury edition of The Joy of Cooking. It was a simple recipe, eaten with hot buttered noodles or sticky white rice. It was one of my favorite childhood dinners, and very easy to make. My version is kid-friendly, allergen-free, and highly adaptable to your individual tastes.
For 4-6 servings, you will need:
1 3/4 - 2 lbs stew beef (chuck roast is a good choice) cut into 1" cubes
2 tablespoons oil (olive and veggie are fine. I used bacon fat for extra oomph)
5 cups sliced yellow onions, cut 1/3 inch thick (About 1 1/2 lbs whole, unpeeled onions)
3 tablespoons sweet paprika (If you want heat, you can replace some of the sweet paprika for hot paprika, to your taste.)
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon dried thyme (Or oregano or marjoram. Or caraway seeds, as some traditional recipes call for. It's up to you!)
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
Pepper, to taste
Parsley and Sour Cream/Plain Yogurt, optional, as garnish
In a heavy bottomed soup pot or Dutch oven, fry beef over high heat in 1 tablespoon of oil until well browned on all sides.
Reduce heat to medium. Add the second tablespoon of oil, the paprika, the onions, the herbs, and 1 teaspoon salt. Cover and cook for about 7 minutes. Then, scrape the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon. (The onions will become soft and translucent, and their moisture will have softened the fond of caramelized meat, oil, and paprika at the bottom of the pot.)
Add 2 cups water and the bay leaf. Bring to a boil on high heat, reduce heat to low, and simmer, covered, for about 2 hours, checking every 1/2 hour or so to scrape the bottom of the pot and make sure enough liquid remains, as it will evaporate and thicken. Add water as needed, a 1/2 cup at a time. There should be enough liquid to cover the meat about halfway, and it should be the viscosity of heavy cream. (You could also place the pot, covered, in a 275 degree oven for 2-3 hours.)
The stew is cooked when the meat is fork tender. Adjust salt and pepper to your taste. Serve with buttered noodles, boiled potatoes, or rice. Garnish with chopped parsley and a dollop of sour cream or plain yogurt, if you wish.