sunny beef goulash

My husband works a lot, most weekends he does a double shift as an on-call doctor in the local area, and most of the time he does this with his friend Bob. Bob is an ex-special forces, now quite old, but having come from the military family, I instantly bonded with him and truth be told, it was Bob who inspired me to cook for the two of them.

They call in the middle of the shift, around 6pm, and I put together a meal that I cooked. It cheers them up and gives them energy, but also, it gives Bob a chance to eat food like "his grandmother used to make".


He is a huge fan of my stews, he reckons he'd pay £80 for it in a restaurant :D and is forever suggesting I should open one in a town where he lives.
This makes me so happy and proud that even when I really don't feel like cooking, I still do it because I don't want to let Bob down. Besides, before I started doing this, we almost never ate these hearty meals, these days they are considered decadent and too rich, even though, realistically and calories-wise, they are much better than most restaurant or takeaway food, actually, much better than staple foods like mac and cheese and such.

Goulash was a staple food when I was a child - a small amount of meat can easily feed the whole family, especially when served with pasta and salad. Even though I know the "standard" way of making it (according to my mum's recipe) most of the time, my goulash is different because I love experimenting with it.
This time, I had really lean beef chuck and a condiment we call "ajvar" (pronounced "ay-var"). This is another Balkan classic, a relish made out of roasted peppers, roasted aubergines +- garlic, tomato etc. I'll post my own recipe at some point, but this time my sister brought me two jars she found in some Turkish shop in London, both slightly hot and mainly made with peppers.
So I decided to run with it, and the result was incredible!


1 kg free range beef chuck, cubed
4-5 tbsp olive oil
2 large onions
2 cloves garlic
2 tbsp ajvar
2 carrots
2 stalks celery
1 parsnip
1 yellow pepper
200 ml white wine
1 400 g can chopped tomatoes
4 bay leaves
1 tsp Herbs de Provence
salt and pepper to taste

100 g dry pasta per person
200 g block of feta
flat leaf parsley


Make sure your beef is dry (I dry it using absorbent kitchen paper). Heat 1-2 tbsp of olive oil and brown the beef in batches.
Grate all the onions, carrot, celery, parsnip and garlic. Slice the pepper thinly.
When all the beef is done, add 2-3 tbsp oil and sauté the grated onions until translucent. Don't be too shy with oil, this dish easily serves 6, and if you put 5 tbsp olive oil in it, and your meat is lean, you'll end up with less than 1 tbsp oil per person, which is less than 100 calories. The rest is all good stuff.

So, once your onions are nice and smooth, add carrots, parsnip, celery, pepper and garlic. Mix well and let it sauté for another 10 minutes, until all becomes soft and full-bodied. This is a lot of vegetables which will basically make the bulk of the sauce, but you won't be able to see individual components in the finished meal.

While you are waiting for the vegetables, mix the beef with ajvar, make sure every cube is well coated. Place the beef into a big clay pot (or ovenproof casserole dish) and add the sauteed vegetables when they are done.
Add chopped tomatoes, wine, salt and pepper and mix well. Add more water if needed to cover all the ingredients (but there shouldn't be way too much water in it).
Add herbs and bay leaf, cover and cook in the oven at 180 C for at least 2 hours.

To make herb feta, finely chop any herbs you like (here I liked parsley, if this was lamb you could do mint and parsley or even basil etc) and add to crumbed feta cheese. Mix well with your hands until you have a nice garnish.

Serve goulash on the bed of pasta, garnished with herb feta.

Bon appétit!

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