Salim’s Goulash

One day, many years ago, a friend stopped at my room in the Aaseehauskolleg in Münster, Germany and told me that Salim was making his famous goulash. The Aaseehaus was a Studentenheim. It was a combination dormitory, fraternity house and youth hostel complete with kitchens for use by the residents who were students at the Kaiser Wilhelms Universität.

“Famous” might be an exaggeration, but Salim’s goulash was raved about by the friends he shared it with. We were off to the kitchen and watched him cook goulash the way his mother made it in Afghanistan. A few days later over a couple of beers in my room, Salim shared the recipe with me,

He was studying medicine and was planning to return to Afghanistan as a doctor. His father, he told me, was a rug merchant and his mother a housewife. Salim was an intelligent and generous person who I am sure made a fine doctor. He was a stickler for getting things right. That may be why he let me watch him make it again just in case my German was not as good as his.

Over the years I have made this dish at least fifty times. Occasionally, someone complains that it is too spicy for them. Let them eat Jello.*


3 to 4 lbs. beef
3 to 4 cups onions
2 T olive oil
2 T butter
1/2 to 1 tsp. cayenne
1 T paprika
Dry red wine (Cabernet sauvignon and merlot are both good choices.)
Tomato juice
1 tsp. salt
1 T flour


Cut the meat into one inch cubes, trimming and discarding excess fat. Peel and chop the onions medium. Heat the olive oil and butter in a large heavy pot over high heat and brown the meat in batches. Remove the meat from the pan with a slotted spoon.

You should have three to four tablespoons of oil left in the pot. Reduce the heat to medium, add the onions and cook them until they are softened. Return the meat to the pot and add equal amounts of a good dry red wine and tomato juice to cover the meat. Stir in the salt, paprika and cayenne and bring the mixture to a boil.

Turn the heat to low, cover the pot and simmer the meat for at least two hours. Salim simmered his for a longer time, since inexpensive beef available in Germany then was even tougher than what we are used to.

Stir occasionally and add equal amounts of wine and juice if necessary. About fifteen minutes before serving, dissolve a tablespoon of flour in a quarter cup of cold water and stir it into the goulash. stir well and continue cooking. This will thicken the gravy slightly.

Serve the goulash over noodles with the remainder of the wine (and an extra bottle?) and thick slices of a crusty homemade bread on the side. Jerri’s egg noodles make this truly a gourmet dinner. You’ll find the recipe here.

NOTES: This recipe makes enough for eight or ten hungry people, but it holds well in the refrigerator and is even better warmed up a couple of days later. You can also freeze it and bring it out for a great dinner without having to do any work.

*If, instead of Jello, you want want a delicious goulash that is not spicy, make Pörkelt. It’s flavored with paprika, marjoram, lemon and caraway. No cayenne.

Oxtail Soup–A Peasant Recipe Goes Gourmet

Time was when oxtails were cheap.  In fact, if you bought some hamburger and a pot roast from one of the butchers in Hayward where I grew up, he would often give you an oxtail free if you asked for it.  When hamburger was 30¢ a pound, oxtails were a nickel or dime.

Oxtails were peasant food.  That was probably why my mother made oxtail soup, and I know that was why I made it when Jerri and I were first married.

How times have changed.  When I told a friend what I had to pay for oxtails last week, he said, “Why not use prime rib?”  However, when I make oxtail soup, I don’t want to skimp on ingredients.  Prime rib is good, but it won’t make one of the finest beef soups you will ever taste.

From what I read, gourmet chefs are responsible for the high cost of oxtails today.  They’ve discovered that oxtails are a wonderful meat, whether braised or barbecued, used to make a paté, ragout, terrine, stew or…soup.  And since there is only one tail per cow, oxtails provide a perfect example of the law of supply and demand on prices.

Mr. Olson, the butcher who supplied us with many oxtails when I was a boy would have thought you were crazy if you had told him that people would some day pay more for oxtails than hamburger.  Today you are competing with people who pay $5 for a cup of coffee, but you need an oxtail, no matter what the cost.

The long slow simmering releases the gelatin and flavor from the bones, which creates the delicious full-bodied broth that characterizes this wonderful vegetable beef soup.

This is my recipe from over 40 years ago.  I don’t make it too often today: Oxtails are pricey, but I can resist temptation only so long.  Make this soup once, and you’ll begin saving pennies for the next batch.


1 oxtail, 3 to 4 lbs., disjointed (cut into sections)
4 or 5 slices bacon
1- 3 T butter
1 medium onion
4 – 5 cups water
4 cups beef broth
1 /2 — 1 tsp. salt
1/2  tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 bay leaves
4 whole cloves
3 or 4 garlic cloves
1 large carrot
1 small diced rutabaga
1 medium diced parsnip
2 ribs celery
1/4 cup parsley
1 small to medium tomato
1 cup pearl barley
1/2 tsp. thyme
1/2 tsp. marjoram
1/2 tsp. basil
1 cup dry red wine
2 T butter
2 T flour


Cut the bacon into small pieces and brown them slowly in a large soup pot until the bacon is crisp.  Remove the bacon but leave the bacon fat in the pan.  You should have at least 2 tablespoons of fat to brown the oxtails.  Add a tablespoon of butter if you wish.

Increase the heat and brown the oxtails, turning them to brown on all sides.  While the oxtails are browning, chop the onion. Remove the oxtails when they have browned.  If necessary drain excess fat.  Reduce heat to low.  Add the chopped onions to about 2 tablespoons of fat and stir them until they are translucent.  Return the crisp bacon and the oxtails to the pot.  Increase the heat and add the water and broth, the salt and pepper.

Remove the paper from the garlic toes and cut them in half.  Put them with the bay leaves and cloves in a spice bag or tied in a piece of cheesecloth and drop it in the pot.  Bring to boiling, reduce the heat, cover and let simmer for 3 to 5 hours, stirring occasionally and checking to make certain that there is plenty of liquid covering the oxtails.  Add more water if necessary.  The meat should come easily off the bones.  If it does not, let it simmer a bit longer.

When the oxtails have cooked long enough, turn off the heat and use tongs or a slotted spoon to remove them from the liquid.  Remove and discard the spice bag.  Let the oxtails and broth cool.  After it has cooled,  chill it in the refrigerator.  Skim most of the fat off the broth.  If all is going well, you will notice that that cold broth resembles a soft gelatin.

While the broth is cooling, remove the meat from the oxtails with a small knife, taking care to separate the fat from the meat.  You will end up with shredded beef which you will return to the broth.

Peel and dice the parsnip and rutabaga and scrub and dice the carrot and celery stalks.  You should have about 1 cup each of carrot, rutabaga and parsnip and about 1 1/2 – 2 cups of celery.  Remove the stem scar from the tomato and dice it quite fine.  Chop the parsley fine.

Heat the broth to a gentle simmer.  Stir the meat and vegetables into the broth along with the the cup of barley.  Add the wine, thyme, marjoram and basil and parsley.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer very gently for about an hour, stirring occasionally.

Make a roux by browning two tablespoons of flour in two tablespoons of butter over moderate heat.   The roux should be a dark golden brown to help color the soup.  Remove the roux from the heat and carefully add about 1 cup of the soup broth, stirring well.  Return this mixture to the soup and continue simmering for 5 to 10 minutes.  Taste and correct the seasoning if necessary.

Serve with a green salad and fresh bread.

As with most meat and vegetable soups, oxtail soup is even better warmed up.  It can be frozen and reheated for quick lunches or dinners.

NOTES:  If you don’t have beef broth in the house, use three bouillon cubes with the water.  Feel free to brown some cubes of steak with the oxtails if you want more meat in the soup.