Goulash, Potatoes, and Red Cabbage

The Best Part Is The Food

There’s nothing like home cooking at mom’s house. The moment I walk up the driveway and I can smell the food coming out the kitchen window I’m transported back to being 7 years old.

It was the winter of 1977 and we had a big snowstorm between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I was helping my father shovel the driveway and walkways. After working up a big appetite I remember drooling over my mother’s goulash that evening. I was hungry and it smelled like heaven. After gobbling down the food I promptly fell asleep on the couch.

German food tends to get a bad rap for being “bland” and very “meat and potato” like.

For those that don’t know, goulash is a standard dinner or lunch fare in Europe. Everyone has their version of it and how they make but my mother’s take on it was very simple. It consists of three main ingredients: meat, potatoes, and red cabbage.

German food tends to get a bad rap for being “bland” and very “meat and potato” like. It’s not elegant as French food or exotic like Szechuan food. What makes German foods interesting is their simplicity. Most German foods are simple dishes that satisfy any ravenous hunger.

The recipe I’m going to share with you can be made with just those three ingredients, some seasoning, butter, and starch.

Goulash with potatoes and red cabbage, © Author

This is recipe is not considered a “secret” that I had to sneak out of the house but it’s never been written down. It’s always been handed down between the mothers and wives of old Germany. From mother to daughter, mother in law to daughter in law, and grandmother to grandchild.

How do you get started with this wonderful dish? You start with the meat. It all comes down to the meat.

Secret cooking tip, the trick to all German cooking is butter and lots of it.

Find yourself a good cut of beef, usually chuck cut. You can use something “tougher” but you will have to cook the meat longer. This can work well if you’re on a budget and I’m a big fan of using everything and not wasting food.

Cut the beef into cubes and then place the meat into a large pot with boiling water.

My mother then boils the meat till it looks cooked through.

The next step is important. DO NOT DISCARD THE WATER! The meat flavored water acts as a beef stock and is the key to the gravy. Remove the beef and set it aside.

The next step is making a roux with butter and starch. Most people will use flour but my mother likes potato starch. She adds the butter and potato starch in a saucepan and under low heat mixes them till it turns brown. Then she’ll add the beef flavored water to the saucepan and mix thoroughly to eliminate any lumps.

That’s the gravy!

Next, she browns the meat in a frying pan with butter.

Secret cooking tip, the trick to all German cooking is butter and lots of it.

Once the meat is browned she places it into the gravy and simmers while she prepares the potatoes and red cabbage.

Next, she peels and cubes potatoes and boils them in water with a pinch of salt. While they’re cooking my mother will prepare the rotkohl (red cabbage).

This is where we cheat, we buy our sauerkraut and red cabbage from the store now. When my father was a boy, my paternal grandmother used to make her sauerkraut.

She made a 55-gallon drum of it every year before she passed away. That sauerkraut, and its derivations, fed my paternal grandfather, my father, and his 8 siblings as children and young adults.

Food was plenty in my father’s home village but it was simple country cooking.

After all mom’s home cooking is a wonderful treat throughout the year, not just around the holidays…

Today my mother buys pickled red cabbage from Aldi or some other store. You will have to experiment with the brand that you like.

Once the potatoes are cooked, she drains the water and then serves all three together.

The beef with gravy has a savory taste, the red cabbage is sweet and sour, and boiled potatoes act as a foundation to this simple yet comforting German food.

When all three are on your plate, the smell is divine. It’s a simple and satisfying dish to make when family and friends come over. My son will eat two large servings of it every time.

The recipe

In a nutshell, the recipe is as follows:

1–2 lbs of beef chuck meat

2–3 large Idaho potatoes

1 jar of red cabbage

  1. Cut beef into cubes and put it into a pot of boiling water. Make sure beef is covered
  2. Once beef looks cooked, remove beef and set it aside. Save water for gravy.
  3. In a saucepan add 1 tablespoon of butter and potato starch. This is a standard roux and you can substitute flour if you like.
  4. Whisk butter and starch till it turns brown on low heat. Make sure to remove any lumps for a brown and even mixture.
  5. Add beef cooked water to the butter and starch, mix and simmer.
  6. Brown cooked beef in a pan with butter and seasoning (salt and pepper). Once browned add to gravy and simmer.
  7. Peel and cube potatoes and boil with a pinch of salt. Once tender, drain water and keep warm.
  8. In a separate pot heat the red cabbage till hot.
  9. Once the meat and gravy, potatoes, and cabbage are all ready, serve and enjoy.


I’m sure my mother might add some garlic powder or other flavoring to the gravy as she makes it but that’s a secret she’ll never tell us.

After all mom’s home cooking is a wonderful treat throughout the year, not just around the holidays, and she knows how to hook us.

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