In this computer age of digital supermonsters and pokemon villains, the old-time fiends tend to fade away, even at Halloween. But the charm of the Werewolf, Frankenstein, and most importantly, Count Dracula, lied in their vulnerability. Yes, these were monsters to be afraid of, but they were really just outcasts trying to get by in a foreign world.
Fact can be odder than fiction. As monsters go, Count Dracula was always the most attractive villain—a bit of a ladies man, dashing and romantic in a dark, Gothic way. But the real Dracula was far more evil. Dracula means "son of the devil" in Romanian and this was one name given to a 15th century prince, Vlad Tepes, whose habit of impaling his subjects on large pointed stakes stuck in the ground earned him the additional moniker of Vlad the Impaler (Tepes means impaler). Legend suggests he ruled Transylvania, though he actually governed a neighboring state called Wallachia, where his castle, crumbled in ruins, barely stands today.
Nonetheless, because of Bram Stoker's Dracula, the mention of Transylvania conjures up images of bats, blood and vampires—a far cry from the truly sedate life there, with felt-hatted peasants, fir trees, comfortable rathskellars and Byzentine cathedrals. Transylvania, by the way, resides in Romania, but its long history includes influences and occupations by the Hungarians, as well as the Turks.
Goulash, I feel, suffers from the same bad press as Transylvania. As kids, we used to cringe at being served Hungarian Goulash—the name just sounded blechy. It became a family joke—when asked what was for dinner, my mother would tease us with "Goulash!" to which my brother and I scrunched up our faces and uttered the appropriate "Ewwwwe!"
If you have kids or guests that react to goulash the way my brother and I did, call it by another name—porkoklt or paprikas will do. The name goulash (or gulyas) was actually coined by the Austrians to describe the traditional Hungarian dish known as either porkolt or paprikas. Ironically, one writer attributes the name change to the Austrians' perception that goulash sounded more exotic and thus, more Hungarian. Sure, my brother would say, wrinkling up his nose— like anyone would really prefer "goulash" to paprikas!
But if you've ever had a true Hungarian Goulash, you know that this inviting stew, bearing an attractive deep red hue, is irresistibly rich with onion, paprika and hearty meat flavors. Served with egg noodles and perhaps a spot of sour cream, it makes an immensely satisfying, comforting meal for family or guests.
With Halloween around the corner, why not set the theme with a big batch of Transylvanian Goulash, served in a hollowed out pumpkin? The Basic Goulash Recipe uses onion, sweet peppers, your choice of meat, and real Hungarian paprika. Simple, satisfying, and easy to prepare.
While common ingredients make up the traditional goulash, select the paprika with care. Most paprikas are sweet, though a few can be as fiery as cayenne. According to Hungarian cookbook author, Eva Kende, there are four common types of Hungarian paprika:
Kende prefers the edesnemes or csemege paprikas for cooking, but if you can't find them in a specialty market or spice merchant, go ahead and use the supermarket paprika as long as it's labeled "Hungarian." Regular, generic paprika won't give the same rich flavor.
By the way, traditional goulash never includes the vampire's bain: garlic. But for those believers in the supernatural, it might not be a bad idea to toss a couple cloves of garlic in the stew, especially on Halloween night!
The Global Gourmet
Note: These recipes are reprinted by permission from Eva's Hungarian Kitchen, by Eva Kende—an inspiring wirebound collection of 300 authentic Hungarian recipes. The easy to follow recipes are titled in both English and Hungarian, and the background on the Magyars and their traditional foods is charming, informative and well done. Eva's Hungarian Kitchen differs from other Hungarian cookbooks in that the focus is on home-cooking, not on fancy stylized recipes of a chef, and strives to include all the traditional foods, not just the ones "fit for company."
Kate's Global Kitchen for October, 2000:
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