Karl’s Depression Era Goulash

Jan’s family Christmas Eve traditional meal was Grandpa Von Hausen’s goulash. This was a Depression era dish of bacon, hamburger, onions, a whole bottle of ketchup, garlic, paprika, and cans of peas, kidney beans, and pork & beans. The idea was that this dish would sustain the family throughout the days of Christmas—without anyone needing to stop and cook.

Karl’s Depression Era Goulash

Karl’s Depression Era Goulash

While goulash is a common dish over most of America, it’s only relationship to Hungarian goulash seems to be the usual addition of beef and paprika. While the American version first appeared around 1914, this is one of those recipes with no set ingredients list. Many families have their own special variations of the dish. During the 1930’s—the Great Depression—it seemed to consist of any cheep canned foods you had available, added to a bit of hamburger.

I had Jan’s family recipe a few times—early in my relationship with Jan—and I was not overly fond of it. I think the main reason for my dislike was because, after making it, her mother would then simmer it for 24 hours before serving—so that it had the texture of a sticky mush. Jan requested this goulash for this Christmas and I thought I would make a healthier update, to the point where I would happily eat it.

Adding a few flavor agents to the beef before frying, as well as reducing the amount down to a half pound, would be a start. Replacing the ketchup with tomato paste and fire roasted tomatoes would greatly reduce the amount of sugar in the dish—there is already quite enough in the pork and beans which cannot be removed. Since I am diabetic, I am always looking for way the cut down on the sugar.

While many recipes for this type of dish call for the addition of macaroni and cheese, Jan’s family always chose the healthier option of beans and no cheese. I do not particularly like peas, so I am replacing them with green beans cut down to look like peas. For Jan, who likes them a lot, I will put some steamed peas on the side to add as she desires.

After Dinner Note: Jan said it was close to her grandfather’s goulash, but that it really needed at least some ketchup to capture the true memory. I have added some back in the recipe below.

Karl’s Depression Era Goulash


½ lb. ground beef (20/80)
½ Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
½ tsp. onion powder
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. cracked black pepper

2 strips smoky bacon, coarsely chopped

1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1 tsp. Kosher salt

1 stalk celery, coarsely chopped
½ lb. green beans, cut into ⅜ inch pieces (pea sized)
½ green bell pepper, coarsely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbs. tomato paste

¼ cup ketchup
1 can (14.5 oz) fire roasted diced tomatoes
1 Tbs. Hungarian paprika
½ tsp. black pepper
1 can (16 oz) red kidney beans, drained
1 can (15 oz.) pork and beans, DO NOT drain

½ cup frozen petite green peas


1. Put the hamburger in a medium mixing bowl and add the Worcestershire sauce, onion powder, salt, and pepper.

2. Mix well and cover with plastic wrap to meld for 20-30 minutes.

3. Put the bacon in a Dutch oven and fry until crisp over a medium high heat.

4. Remove the bacon to a plate and set it aside.

Note: This crispy bacon will be used as garnish for the individual bowls of stew.

5. Form the hamburger into one large patty and fry it on both sides until it is well browned.

Tip: This is an America’s Test Kitchen trick. It solves the problem of getting the flavor of the Maillard reaction without turning your ground beef into little dried out pebbles.

6. Remove the beef to a plate to cool and spoon out all but two tablespoons of the grease.

Tip: Between the bacon and fatty hamburger there will be about 4-6 tablespoons of fat in the pot. While this oil represents a lot of flavor it would also make the final dish too greasy.

7. Sauté the onions with the salt until they are just starting to pick up some color, about five minutes.

8. Add the celery, green beans, and peppers to the onions.

9. Continue to sauté the vegetables for another five minutes.

. Pull the vegetables to the sides of the pot and add the garlic and tomato paste.

Tip: Put the garlic on one side of the open space and the paste on the other.

10. Cook the garlic and tomato paste until the garlic is fragrant and the paste has started to darken, about 1-2 minutes.

11. Stir in the can of tomatoes—with all of its liquid—and deglaze the pot with the juices.

12. Sprinkle the paprika and pepper over the vegetables.

13. Drain the kidney beans and stir them to the pot.

14. Mix the pork and beans—with its liquid—into the pot.

15. Simmer the stew, uncovered, for ten minutes.

16. Add the green peas and continue simmering, uncovered, for another ten minutes.

Note: I do not particularly like peas, so I steamed them separately for Jan and Eilene to add to their bowls at the table.

17. Serve hot with the crispy bacon on the side.


Filed under Beans, Beef, California Fusion, Holidays, Main Dishes, Stews

3 responses to “Karl’s Depression Era Goulash

  1. Pingback: Karl’s Moroccan Chicken Bierocks | Jabberwocky Stew

  2. Pingback: 27 + Frugal Recipes From the Great Depression - Lemon Zest and Basil

  3. Pingback: Karl’s Noom Friendly Depression Era Goulash | Jabberwocky Stew

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