Many years ago, dear hubby and I spent a winter vacation in Austria. We skied (real mountains!), we sledded (dear Gods, 8 km down a steep mountain road together on a single little sled!), and we led the genteel life in Vienna (Coffee! Sacher Torte!) It's a vacation we still talk about many years later.
Among the treasures we brought back from that vacation were a thick Viennese cookbook and a half kilo of paprika. Both of these were in support of our enthusiasm for gulasch, or goulash - beef and sometimes potatoes with a marvelous blend of onions and paprika, bound with a hint of tomato. As a soup, it's a grand pick-me-up or restorative. As a stew, it can be plain or very fancy. It lends itself to variations: 'student style' has more gravy and less meat. 'Carriage driver style' includes a little sausage (würstli) and a fried egg. At our house, we like it 'Plouff style': Something between a stew and a soup, thick with beef, potatoes, sausage (frankfurter) and pickles. I can't think of a better dish for cold, grey, or damp weather.
You don't have to find a thick German-language cookbook to learn this dish; I'll share our family favorite. The most important component is the paprika. While there are eight types of paprika in its native Hungary, the kind you'll want is 'noble sweet'.
Heat oil in a heavy Dutch oven, sauté the onions until they begin to turn golden. Add the tomato paste and flour, and stir well. Remove from the heat, and add the paprika, stirring very well to combine.
Add the vinegar, then return pot to the heat. Add broth. Bring to a boil, then add the meat, garlic, caraway, and marjoram. Reduce the heat, and simmer gently, covered, until the beef is tender. If you're using raw potatoes, add them early on, so that they'll cook through, but if you're using cooked potatoes, wait until just before serving.
At serving time: Score sausages or hot dogs several times, and cook or heat until just cooked through. Put one sausage on top of each bowl. Scatter with chopped dill pickles and serve.
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