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.

Endnotes

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.

For the Love of Cast Iron Cooking

If there is one bit of advice I can give my children for a happy life it’s to learn cooking and own at least one cast iron pan.

It’s a common understanding across all cultures and parts of the world that being able to feed yourself and the ones you love is a superpower.

It’s a superpower because it can create deep bonds among family members and lovers. If you ever wanted to impress a future lover, learn to cook.

Seriously.

Thomas Keller in his Masterclass said this about cooking and cooks, he said:

“Cooks cook to nurture people.”

Cooking is a way to nurture the ones you love and it doesn’t require a lot of fancy stuff. All you need are a few simple kitchen utensils and a cast iron pan.

Here’s how.

Nonstick vs Cast Iron

Cast iron is a very old invention. It was used for weapons, door frames, and all kinds of things where strength was needed. Once it was fashioned into soup cauldrons and pans to cook food in, it became part of any cook’s arsenal to make food.

Yes, it’s heavy, but its weight is a mere trade-off. Cast Iron cooking gear is versatile and nearly indestructible. You can use it on the stove and then finish up your meal in the oven.

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You can use it on a grill. I use to cook bratwursts in beer and sauerkraut right on the grill. Once the brats are cooked and swap them right onto the grill.

You can use it to bake bread or make pizzas.

I sear steaks on the stovetop and then finish it in the oven for a perfect-looking (and medium-rare) steak.

© Author, searing steaks

I make breakfast skillets from leftovers the very next day for my excited family. After marinating in the cooked juices overnight the food tastes even better heated up again

© Author, breakfast skillet

But what about non-stick pans? Aren’t they new technology and therefore better? I heard that cast iron pans are harder to clean and care for?

What’s the deal?

There are some big differences between non-stick and cast iron pans. The biggest is that the non-stick pan is easier to clean. Many times, if used properly, you just have to wipe them clean and gently rinse with warm water and soap.

To clean cast iron, you need to scrape off stuff first, rinse, and in some cases scrub. You’re not supposed to use soap and you have to towel dry it. All this aftercare is super important to keep the pan’s non-stickiness intact.

Both types of pans can be non-sticky. Non-stick pans come with the chemical coating already and all you need to do is use special utensils not to scratch the coating. Once you scratch the coating your non-stick pan becomes a regular pan, where everything can stick.

Cast iron can be a very powerful non-stick pan as long as its seasoning remains intact. What is seasoning? Seasoning is all the fat and oils you used in cooking that bond with the cast iron and create its non-stick coating.

What to see how sexy a well-seasoned cast iron pan is? Just look at these eggs sliding around a well-seasoned pan!

Eggs! On a cast-iron pan? Who would’ve thought that was even possible!

I would dare to say that a properly seasoned cast iron pan has superior non-stick properties than the average non-stick pan.

© Author, making dinner skillet with rice

However, just like with a regular non-stick pan, the seasoning can be destroyed by improper after-care during clean-up and cooking high acid foods like tomatoes.

So what do you do if the seasoning is destroyed? You can fix it in so many ways. Just cook something fatty or with oil. Or you can just clean it and wipe oil on it and then bake the pan on high for a few minutes. Here’s a handy guide on how to season your pan.

Achievement unlocked! Cast iron pan renewed!


In my experience, a properly cared for cast iron pan will outperform a non-stick pan every single time.

Interested yet?

Where can you get a cast iron pan? New ones can be bought at your local superstore that has kitchen wares. If you want some cheaper you could check out your local thrift stores.

Happy cast iron cooking!


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