How to make a calming goulash kettle for fall

Halloween may be the holiday known for sweets, but it is also one of my favorite holidays for taking people out for a casual dinner. Something hot and spicy from a large kettle on the stove is just too suitable, especially when accompanied by a little carbon dioxide, like a hand-held piece of corn bread or focaccia.

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Goulash, a classic stew richly seasoned with beef and paprika, is a pillar of Hungarian cuisine and an integral part of my family’s food culture. My grandparents on both sides regularly served it as a family dish, using beef or chicken as the budget allowed. Potatoes stretch the dish and balance out the meatiness, while buttered egg noodles soak up the rich sauce. Many Central European restaurants serve goulash as a side dish in small bowls or as a main course with spaetzle and pumpernickel.

Fresh paprika, intensely flavored and deep red, is essential. I start with a new container every fall. Fresh paprika is sweet and rich, unlike the pale orange powder in bottles on many home spice shelves. Look for the red can of Hungarian sweet peppers from Pride of Szeged for reliably tasty peppers.

This fall, I’m using a chef-style trick my grandmothers never thought of: browning the beef over the direct heat of a smoky grill. This is less messy than browning batches of meat in hot fat, which is prone to splattering. Sure, heating up the grill is a bit of a hassle, but you can sear the beef after grilling and keep it cool for up to two days. Be sure to cool the meat so that you can handle it to cut it into pieces; Chilled meat is easier to cut than warm meat.

For a creepy version, cut red peppers into “fingers” and stir in black-eyed peas at the end of the simmer. Place cooked orecchiette or egg noodles in serving bowls before spreading the goulash on top. Buy thick tomato focaccia or crispy ciabatta to mop up all the goodies in the creepy goulash bowl.

For a meatless main course that resembles a bowl of goulash, make a red pepper, tomato and pasta sauce with dried mushrooms and beer to replace the umami flavor of the meat. Stir cooked pasta into the sauce and bake with or without a melting cheesy top before serving.

After the sweet warmth of the paprika, the dessert should be cool and refreshing. Using leftover Halloween candy, stir chopped candy bars into soft vanilla or chocolate ice cream. Or you can try it with scoops of lemon sorbet, sprinkled with crumbled shortbread biscuits, sweet paprika and coarse salt.

Smoky beef goulash with black-eyed peas and red bell pepper

Grilling your meat saves tons of kitchen filth and gives this otherwise classic Hungarian goulash recipe a desirable smokiness.

For the recipe for smoky beef goulash with black-eyed peas and red bell pepper, click here.

Pasta casserole with paprika and red pepper

If you’re a vegetarian or just don’t crave beef, this calming rigatoni casserole has all of the flavors of classic goulash with the generous addition of cheese.

For the Red Pepper and Red Pepper Pasta Casserole, click here.

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