Exploring my Roma roots with some good Gypsy comfort food, a hearty Romanian Style Goulash. A rich beef and tomato stew heavy with Paprika, it’s slow food to warm your soul as nights get longer and the chill of fall fills your days.
It is in my nature to wander, if I’m in one place for too long I get restless for change, sometimes I move across town, across the country… or I just move the furnisher! My maternal Grandmother used to say it was in my blood, inherited from her mother, a beautiful Romani woman who immigrated to western Canada in the boom of the 1920s.
Cuisine Of Those Who Wander
As a child, my Grandmother learned to cook at her mother’s knee the cuisine of her nomadic Roma heritage. Influences and flavours that bridged Russia, Hungary, Romania, and those countries that surrounded the Black Sea, all collected while travelling traditional family routes from the edge of modern-day Russia, as far south as Turkey. Simple, one-pot, peasant food.
Many of her specialties were dishes that were the mainstays of the lower working class. Produce that stored well, fruit preserved in glass jars or dried, tough cuts of meat that required long, slow cooking and cured meats that could last in through long cold winters: Borscht, cabbage rolls, sauerkraut, and goulash.
The Culture of Thrift
In a life salted by tragedy and the great depression, like many women of her time, she learned to stretch every resource. She made clothing out of flour sacks and lined her children’s shoes with newspaper in winter. Never was food wasted, never did a single bite go unappreciated. Once a week she baked bread in a wood-fired oven and on Sundays it was pie, even into the 1980’s she considered her “new-fangled electric stove” inferior in every way.
I wish I had that big wood stove now; with its overhead warming oven, flat top and water heater, gleaming with chrome trim. I see it in my mind’s eye when I think of her teaching me how to properly fill the firebox on cold, damp mornings, her slippered feet and wool socks, wrapped in a worn chenille robe with her auburn hair in curlers.
The Remains of Roma Food Culture
In my grandmother’s kitchen, I learned to make soap and churn butter, all skills gleaned from her intensely independent Gypsy mother. On her small farm, I milked goats, turned eggs under heat lamps until tiny peeping chicks and ducklings would emerge, and ran from swaggering ganders bent on my destruction. Her simple approach to food is what I turn to time after time in my kitchen. Simple. Honest. Hearty.
This is perhaps the food I do best, comforting and personal. This Goulash leans Romanian with its heavy use of onion, here we’ve paired it with soft polenta, or maize porridge and topped it with sour cream. May it warm you to your toes.
Exploring my Roma roots with some good Gypsy comfort food. This hearty Romanian Style Goulash is rich, beef and tomato stew heavy with Paprika, it’s slow food to warm your soul. Part of the assimilated influences of the food culture of those who wander.
1/3cup vegetable oil
2 onions, sliced thin
4 tablespoons sweet paprika
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoon ground black pepper
3pounds beef stew meat, cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes
1 – 28 ounce can of tomatoes, whole
1 – 6 ounce can tomato paste
1/2cup beef stock
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 teaspoon salt (divided)
For Maize Porridge:
4cups whole milk
1 teaspoon salt
dash of pepper
2 tablespoons butter
1cup fine corn/maize meal
Heat oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Cook onions in oil until soft, stirring frequently, then remove and reserve.
In a medium bowl, combine paprika, pepper and 2 teaspoons of salt. Coat beef cubes well with spice mixture, then sear over medium heat, in the same pot as you cooked your onions, until browned on all sides. Return the onions to the pot, add tomato paste, tomatoes, garlic, beef stock and the remaining 1 teaspoon salt and stir to combine.
Stovetop Method: If working with a large pot, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally between 90 minutes – 2 hours.
Oven Method: If working with a Dutch oven bring your Goulash to a boil then cover and place a pre-heated 300°F (150°C) oven for 90 minutes – 2 hours. When fully cooked the meat should be tender and the sauce will be thick and rich.
For Maize Porridge: In a large, heavy-based saucepan bring the milk and butter to just under a boil then reduce the heat to medium-low. Add your salt and then slowly add your maize meal, stirring constantly. Whisk, for about 2 minutes, until smooth and lump-free. Simmer for 7 – 12 minutes until cooked. Stir occasionally and add more milk if you find it too thick.
Serve hot, in deep bowls with a generous portion of goulash served on top, a dollop of sour cream makes for the final finish, adding a touch of dairy to a deeply flavoured stew. May the luck of the Gypsy be with you.
Prep Time:20 minutes
Cook Time:2 hours
Keywords: Goulash, Romanian Goulash, Gypsy Comfort Food
Cooking in her home kitchen just outside Ottawa, Canada; Cori Horton is a food photographer and recipe blogger. A Cordon Bleu-trained Chef, Cori spent five years as the owner of Nova Scotia's Dragonfly Inn and has been sharing all things delicious - right here - since 2010.